By Bianca Arriazo, National Latino Institute for School Leaders Fellow, NCLR
A 19-year-old high school senior walks into an office: “I just got kicked out of class again, Miss.”
“What happened now?” asks the person behind the desk.
He responds, “I was just resting my eyes.”
In moments like this educators realize they are the keepers of a student’s academic life. They understand there is a reason for this student being sleepy and they have to share his story with fellow educators. As a team, they have to develop a plan to keep him awake and engaged in his classes so he can make it to Graduation Day.
From an outsider’s view, the question lingers as to why this student is still in school and why he’s received multiple opportunities after acting out and being disrespectful. However, there’s more to this young Latino boy who wears baggy pants, has tattoos in the most random places, hates wearing his school uniform, and has poor attendance. He is being raised by a single mother who works all night at a warehouse. She is only able to tell him he needs to go to school but not able to give him a good reason. He tries to help by working odd jobs but he is influenced by his classmates, buddies, and surroundings and ends up spending his money and time frivolously. Soon after he becomes a father and faced with the urgency to mature and become responsible for another person. He gets a steady job but works long hours, sometimes until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. He knows he needs to graduate yet he has to overcome so many obstacles, just like countless other students in the public school system.
At AAMA Sanchez Charter School, our school population is 98 percent Latino, 48 percent of whom are English language learners. We are an open enrollment charter school and often serve as a second-chance school for students. Our teachers and staff make it a priority to establish relationships with our kids so when a student joins us, they know they are now part of our familia. Most of the time our staff becomes the rock in our students’ lives. Our teachers are not able to be traditional. They have to incorporate art, technology, and a student’s personal interests into every lesson so kids can stay engaged and awake in their classrooms. Our campus has to be mi casa for every student.
Our Principal, John De La Cruz, frequently reminds us “parents are sending us their very best.” With that in mind, we are at the beginning of another year and we will invest all our efforts and emotions on preparing for the many English language learner newcomers, as well as all the other Latino youth who will walk through our door on the first day. We know they will come to us with many needs and gaps in all areas, especially in English language acquisition. We also know they will have to face many social challenges, becoming teenage parents, battling drug addictions, reporting to their parole officers, and just making mistakes and maturing in general. Nevertheless, we also know it will be our mijos and mijas who become our future leaders and parents.
In the end, we may not exceed expectations in all testing areas, but we sure help create and close a chapter in each one of our student’s lives.