There wasn’t a clear path to educational success for me, but I’m hopeful that higher expectations for my two sons will pave the way to a brighter academic future.
They both attend a public charter school in Huntington Park, the same working-class Latino community in Los Angeles County where I grew up. And the biggest difference between my children’s educational experience and my own is that their school demands more from both students and parents.
Parents are expected to help with homework and to be engaged in their child’s education. I’m regularly sent email messages informing me how my sons are performing in class. This kind of communication with parents decreases the likelihood that students will get off track academically.
Another significant difference between my children’s educational experience and my own is that much is expected of teachers. At our school, Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy, the teachers and the principal work hard to promote college preparation.
There’s a concrete plan for students at this school and that wasn’t the case with my own education.
OFF TO A GOOD START
The only child of a single mother, I attended public schools in Los Angeles Unified School District. At that time, there were no charter schools. Until I reached high school, I was placed in honors and gifted classes.
I was motivated and eager to please. I remember being in the first grade and working quickly through math workbooks with another advanced student; it was a competition to see who could finish the problems the fastest.
When I was in the third grade, my mother went to a parent-teacher conference, and the teacher told her that I always walked into class with the sports page. I enjoyed reading as a small child and would look for things to read that interested me.
‘FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS’
Fast forward to my high school years, and I started to get sidetracked. I discovered girls and lost focus as a student. I also had a lot of freedom because my mom worked long hours while also attending school, so I was left unsupervised a lot of the time. For various reasons (some related to school crowding), I attended five high schools before I graduated.
I went from being a motivated honors student to making up credits just to get out of high school. I was lucky to be able to attend community college and transfer to the local state university.
Lots of kids, who have backgrounds similar to mine, fall through the cracks, where no one keeps track of how well they’re doing in school. I want my boys to stay on track and know that their school cares about their progress, too.
GET UP, GET OUT AND DO SOMETHING
Last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District board voted to shut down Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo despite its record of success as the highest-performing public school in Huntington Park. Faced with the possibility of my kids having to attend a lower-performing neighborhood school, I reached out to one of my childhood friends who currently advocates for high quality K-12 education.
My friend suggested that I support a candidate who successfully ran for the district school board, replacing an anti-charter incumbent. The newly elected school board member, Ref Rodriguez, has vowed to protect successful charter schools like Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo so that families have more options in educating their students. (As it turns out, my kids’ school will stay open because the county agreed to renew the charter for the school.)
I think all kids should have the opportunity to attend quality schools that demand excellence. It’s important for parents to get involved because they act as their children’s voice when it comes to the voting booth. When we get parents involved in the local education policies, we can lift our communities.
Frank (Cisco) Saldaña
Frank has performed live at the Comedy Store, Improv, Laugh Factory and on radio and television, including Univision and ESPN Radio.