Growing up I always went to private schools; for the most part. When I would tell people that I went to a private school- a private Catholic school at that – they would imagine some fancy high tech school with higher academic standards, unlimited educational resources, and an envy worthy athletic department. The opposite was true. We had old outdated textbooks, seriously outdated. Our social studies book used the word negro and named Ford as the “current” President when it was actually Bill Clinton. If our teacher was out that day we got a sub for the most part, if not the lunch ladies would fill in. Our teachers did the best with what they had, which wasn’t much. Nonetheless, I loved my school and was glad to be there. Whenever I misbehaved, which was often, my dad would threaten to pull me out and send me to the local public school. I’d clean up my act, even if only temporarily. I wasn’t sent to this private school because my dad was big on Catholicism, it was because it was better than the local schools. Surely they had great teachers, but they also had large class numbers and living in South Central Los Angeles, it was also his way of sheltering me and keeping me out of additional trouble, even if it was only minimal.
When I was pregnant with Celeste, my dad’s first concern was her education. Constantly reminding me of his “great sacrifice” and the investment in my private school education when he could’ve easily been driving a new Cadillac instead of his little Nissan pick-up truck. When the time came for Celeste to start pre-k and kindergarten, it wasn’t offered at the private school. I enrolled her at the local public school where my aunt worked at and I was a Teacher’s Assistant. Having extra sets of eyes and ears helped ensure she landed in classrooms with amazing educators. But not everyone has that perk. I knew I didn’t want her to continue there beyond Kindergarten, not because I thought the teachers were bad, they weren’t. Sure some were more dedicated than others. The school was big and in South LA, so the issues that accompany inner city schools were definitely present, such as large class sizes. While in kindergarten some of the other moms and I would talk about where our kids would go once they graduated, none of us looking forward to them starting off 1st grade at this school, we had no other realistic options. One of the moms mentioned a new Charter school that was opening up, and although she didn’t know much about it, it was better than the alternative and with most families struggling to get by and with multiple children, a private school isn’t an option. The Charter sounded great, but it was new and different. Anything new can be a little intimidating or difficult to navigate.
Having lost my father the summer that Celeste finished Kindergarten, I felt even more compelled to follow in his footsteps by sending my daughter to a private school. It had been over ten years from when I last attended, so I was sure improvements had been made since then. I went ahead, stayed within my comfort zone and enrolled Celeste at St. Malachy. She qualified for a scholarship that helped with the cost of tuition. I was even a bit excited to have my daughter attend the same school as me.
The first day of 1st Grade a note was sent home requesting a blanket and pillow for nap time. This didn’t sit well with me. Really? Nap time in the 1st grade? I complained to the school, which saw nothing wrong with the request. I called the archdiocese which instructed me to bring it up with the school, which I already had done. Celeste wasn’t being challenged, the material she was being taught was stuff she had learned at the beginning of kindergarten. They didn’t work in groups or at the pace of the student like I saw many of the LAUSD teachers do. I admired the hard work of those LAUSD teachers even more. So I did what I do and asked even more questions. Was this teacher even credentialed? Where did she complete her credential program? Does she even have a BA? What were her qualifications? I knew of a few friends that stopped being teacher’s assistants and were hired as teachers by local catholic schools. I raised these questions at a school meeting, and the Principal refused to answer, dancing around them. He later pulled me aside, very upset and said that in the case of my child’s teacher she was in fact credentialed. What about the other teachers I asked. He repeated his previous answer stating that in the case of my daughter her teacher was credentialled. There was an evident lack of communication with parents. I was not happy.
I looked into the charter school immediately, researched it and put my daughter on the waiting list, crossed my fingers, held my breath and lit a veladora. I had to wait over a year for her to get in, but it was worth the wait. She started second grade at an Aspire Charter School. I am aware that many people are anti-charter. What should I do? Wait another 20 years for LAUSD to get it together at my kid’s expense? Send her to the local Catholic school, make the sign of the cross and pray for the best? I can’t send her to another public outside of our area, I’d have to find someone to lend me their address, commit fraud and drive across town. In my case, Aspire was our hero, and I thank that mom for planting the seed in my mind that led me and my daughter there.
First day of school, I walked Celeste to her class and on the door there is a teacher bio. Packets were sent home with all the contact info my little heart could desire, email addresses for teachers and administrators as well as a note stating that copies of their teaching credentials were readily available for our viewing.
My daughter continues to a be a part of Aspire schools. Celeste is being challenged, has a near 4.0 GPA and is a part of the Student Body. College for certain is their motto and ours as well. Several friends of my friends have jumped ship and joined the Aspire family. I receive daily phone calls and emails about my daughter’s behavior, upcoming assignments and events, which I appreciate. I’m confident that my daughter is now on the path to a successful future.
She is a recent cancer survivor and through some years of adversity has risen above all her recent challenges. Lily is a Homeboy Industries graduate and full-time student at California State University, Northridge. She has continued to live her life in South Los Angeles with her two children. She works to show her children that anything can be done with hard work, determination and perseverance even in the face of unimaginable challenges. Her daughter is in a Charter School and she is working to find the right Preschool program for her youngest child.
Latest posts by Lily Gonzalez (see all)
- Denos Una Segunda Oportunidad:Prohíba la Caja en Las Aplicaciones de Colegio - August 21, 2017
- Give Us a Second Chance: Ban the Box on College Applications - August 17, 2017
- De La Prisión a Graduación: Me Lo Gane, Pero Podría Adueñarme del Título? - June 15, 2017
- From Prison to Graduation: I Earned it, But Could I Own it? - June 15, 2017
- A Program like POPS Needs to be Expanded to Meet the Needs of Students with Incarcerated Parents. - July 25, 2016