When I was a kid in grade school I used to think that everyone else in the country went to school and got an education just like I did. Not once did I ever think that there were kids in the world that had many more privileges than me. As I began to mature and grow up, I came to the realization that my own schooling experience wasn’t the same as everyone else’s schooling. I saw that from one neighborhood to the next the resources and opportunities that I had at the public school’s that I attended were not much at all compared to that of the kids that attended private school. I am a U.S. born Mexican American, with both my parents being born in Mexico and immigrated here in the late 80’s.
My culture, ethnicity and the fact that my parents are immigrants put us initially at a disadvantage in terms of our finances and mine and my sister’s education. At this age, I now know that the education I received during k-12 was in the lower half in terms of educational and extracurricular opportunities due to the socioeconomic level that I was born into. I went to elementary school in Richmond, CA and then in Concord, CA. I went to school in Richmond for only two years and it was for my pre-K and Kindergarten but I surprisingly do remember the school that I attended. It was quite a small school with only about 12 class rooms. I remember most of my classmates were diverse and primarily spoke another language other English like Spanish which was the most common.
I know that most of the kids that I attended school with were Latino, Asian, or Middle Eastern. Today I now realize that I was put in a social group because of one thing we all had in common. It was a free public school, there was no after school opportunities and the school provided the bare minimum of education. Every kid that attended was in the lower economic class of society and their parents shared the same economic status.
I remember even during recess things were quite limited. We had tricycles that everyone would fight over because they were the most entertaining things to use but there was only about 4 or 5 of them. I remember being so ecstatic if I ever got the chance to ride one of them because as soon as the bell rang everyone would run to them and it would be a rare occurrence if I ever got a turn to play on one of tricycles. Eventually my parents realized that they wanted to give me more opportunities than the elementary school in Richmond was offering. Today it makes sense to me why that was the only choice of school I had at the time. Ogbu discussed how “the school learning and performance of minority children are influenced by complex social, economic , historical , and cultural factors “ (Ogbu, 1992, p.6).
I was living in a tiny one bedroom house with both my parents and my older sister. The house was very similar to that of section-8 housing because every house was connected together and there was nothing but a bathroom and a small section for the “kitchen” inside of them. It was comparable to the size of a two-star hotel room. The only difference was that the houses were not government-owned. My sister and I shared the living room which we made our “bed-room” and would take public transportation or walked to school.
Fortunately, my father was awarded a small raise and the company he worked for moved him to another city where I started my schooling in Concord, CA. In Concord I attended Cambridge elementary school for 1st-5th grade that was much bigger than the small 10 classroom school I attended in Richmond. I was so excited to start school here because I believed that it would offer several more resources that the previous school never had. Today however, I realize that while it was much bigger, the elementary school was still was in the middle to lower class of society. I had a great time at this elementary school but I never knew there was other elementary schools with enough laptops for every student to use at the same time or enough fully-inflated balls for every kid to play at recess. Ignorance is bliss, that is the best way I could describe the reason I enjoyed my elementary school years so much. I was still going to school with the same racial backgrounds as the school in Richmond but I noticed the Hispanic/Latino population was slightly dominant throughout the school.
As for the educators, four out of five of my teachers were Caucasian, middle-aged women. This was similar to what Valenzuela (1999) explained “Despite rising Latino student enrollment, no equivalent change in the composition of the faculty took place…” (Valenzuela, 1999, p. 93). Although a slight change ended up taking place in the school described by Valenzuela, there was no change at my school with the staff. The fact that the majority of the staff at the school was Caucasian only affected the children negatively. Not because Caucasians are bad people, but because the children didn’t see any representation of themselves in those successful adults that they were surrounded by for half of their day. A lot of these children saw representation in their neighborhoods by elders who were in gangs or selling drugs. It was difficult not to look up to those people. They were flashing quick money and jewelry. Most of these children were living in what would be considered “The hood”. As Jones and Newman (1997) explained “If you live in the ghetto when you’re 10 you know everything you’re not supposed to know.
When I was 10 I knew where drugs came from. I knew about every type of gun” (Jones and Newman, 1997, p. 33). These children where I grew up, including myself were exposed to all of these things at a young age and it was our representation of what was cool and what may be expected of us as we got older. Fortunately for me I had strict parents who kept me from falling through the crack of this society. Comparing my school to the schools today in wealthier areas is something I find amazing.
I have been to several elementary schools in richer areas because of previous volunteer work. I have seen opportunities ranging from engineering club to computer coding club and school supported sports from football to soccer. Most of these kids that I worked with came from gated communities and are mostly all Caucasian. I have been to 12 different schools and every single time in a classroom of 30 kids, at least 25 will be Caucasian, four will be Latino or Asian, and rarely there will be one African American. I need to mention that these institutions are all public and anyone within the district can attend. Almost every day I work at one of these schools and see the opportunities they have I think to myself, “I wish I had this when I was a kid”. Fast forwarding to middle school, I was able to move up a small step socioeconomically.
The middle school that I was supposed to go to, Oak Grove middle, was notorious for being a mediocre school in terms of educational resources. Luckily, my parents were able to get me into another middle school about 20 minutes away in the next city over. It was not an upper-class school but it was at least in the lower middle class. The name of the institution was Sequoia middle school and it started from 6th-8th grade. The fact that my parents were willing to make the drive everyday just to give me more of an opportunity still amazes me. They knew the difference it would make in the long run.
This was mentioned by Orfield and Frankenberg where they say “The differences in segregated minority schools as compared with schools with more White and/or middle class students include fewer educational resources, stability of enrollment, and advanced instruction” (Orfield and Frankenberg, 2014, p.718). The school had a lottery system for the vacant spots and I was lucky enough to win one of them. My parents were aware that Oak Grove, which was in my neighborhood did not have much to offer and was filled with gang activity. Middle school brought more opportunities to me in terms of extracurricular activities.
For example, I was able to play the saxophone from 6th-7th grade. I was so excited because I personally could not afford an instrument and the fact that the school would let me borrow it for free shocked me. I remember there being a few sports teams, school dances, and a couple clubs that were ran mostly by students. The student population was very diverse I saw all different kinds of ethnic and cultural backgrounds so, there was not really a dominant nationality. In terms of financial status most of the students were in the middle class range with a few outliers being in the upper middle class, which we would call the “rich kids”. I was grateful that I actually got into this middle school because due to the fact that I lived in a certain area and I belonged in a lower class at the time I almost did not get exposed to all the opportunities I listed above. I was able to get a decent education and started thinking about higher education a little bit early.
If I had received the bad luck of the draw I could have easily ended up in the previous middle school that I mentioned did not offer many opportunities. I find it fascinating that because of the class and neighborhood that I was born into I almost ended up getting a less than sufficient education. Middle school was a good refresh however, once again the problem of my education being in jeopardy because of the socioeconomic class I was put into came back to haunt me. The high school I was scheduled to go to due to the location I was living in was even worse than the middle school that was shut down. My parents had heard several rumors of there being strong gang influence and violence at this school that was called Mount Diablo High school.
I am not saying that it was one of the most dangerous schools in the state but it was easy to fall through the cracks and make bad life changing decisions if you hung around the wrong crowd. It was also known for having very limited opportunities of helping students get into colleges as well as having non-passionate teachers. My parents would not stand for that so they made the choice to send me to the high school in the next city over and make the commute all over again for the next four years. The fact that my parents were willing to go out of their way to put me in the best school they thought they could offer me is something I really appreciate. This act is relevant to what Lareau (2003) said, “Individuals’ chances of interacting with any given kind of institution are not random: Families from elite backgrounds tend to participate in institutions serving the elite, and families in poverty tend to be involved with institutions serving the poor” (Lareau, 2003, p.14).
Since I was closer to poverty than I ever was to wealth I was predestined to go to a high school serving the poor. The high school I ended up going to was called Ygnacio Valley (Y.V. for short) in Walnut Creek, CA. Now this was nowhere close to any kind of elite or privately funded school but it was definitely better than the high school I was predestined to go to. At Y.V. I was exposed to the health academy where I got more interested in the medical field. Starting from 10th grade all the way to 12th I stayed in the health academy which influenced me to study kinesiology today. Like any other high school there was language requirements but since I am Mexican I actually was put at an advantage in one small aspect. I started in Spanish two right off the bat instead of Spanish one since I already spoke fluent Spanish at home. This meant I only needed one year of a foreign language to graduate versus everyone else who had to take two years. There were other advantages that my low income status actually helped a lot in.
For example, I would always qualify for free breakfast and lunch while other people had to pay for it. There was also the case where I only had to pay $5 for advanced placement tests which were normally $90 for everyone else. Lastly, due to my low-income status I was able to get four free college applications that are usually $50 a piece. Initially my family and I started at quite a disadvantage in terms of having to commute twice as much than most kids at my school. I was also assigned to attend the schools closer to poverty and with little to no educational opportunities or connections to pursue higher education. Luckily, with the extra effort of my parents I was able to make the best of a tough situation in the end. Yes, my parents were Mexican immigrants who could not help me with any school work or give me everything I wanted economically. However, I was able to find another way to get into the college I wanted to even though my economic class could not get me into the best high schools.
I managed keep up with those better off than me although I could not afford the things they could. My race and my class were two things that could have easily put my education in jeopardy but I made the best of a bad situation. I used the socioeconomic class I was born into to the best of my advantage to reap the opportunities I did have and pursue the best education possible.
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