As a child, my family moved several times, and I found myself in three different school districts during my K-12 education. I ultimately ended up graduating from John F. Kennedy High School, a LAUSD traditional high school located in the Northwest San Fernando Valley. Why is this relevant you might ask? Somewhere in my high school education the ball was dropped.
I graduated high school without knowing how to write a standard, five paragraph English paper. This is really embarrassing, disappointing, and quite shameful. At the time, I didn’t know it. I mean I attended school regularly, read the recommended books, and wrote English papers based on the books. It wasn’t until I took my placement test at my local community class and scored at the lowest English class available. Ashamed and embarrassed, I didn’t tell anyone, I just enrolled and told myself that there was a reason why I was placed in the lowest level English course.
But was it my fault entirely? No. It couldn’t be. As an adult, I look back at my high school experience, I realized my teachers showed up as they didn’t care. See most of them had tenure or had side jobs that they were more passionate about. Or at least that’s how I felt as a student. There are also other possibilities that I’ve come up with such as: maxed out classrooms, low teaching salaries, lack of leadership at the administration level, and just plain loss of interest in making a difference. So how could they have taken the time to fully review each student’s paper? There’s no way.
So there I was at the age of 18, a freshman in college, learning the difference between noun and verbs, pronouns, and contractions. I was learning second grade material, and I can confirm this because I’m currently teaching my eight year old daughter this material. This is really upsetting and I paid the price, both figuratively and literally. Figuratively in the sense of shame and lack of confidence throughout college and literally in the sense of remedial classes costing the same price as college level courses.
Now it’s been 16 years since I’ve graduated high school and 10 years since I graduated with my B.A. Earning this degree is one of my greatest accomplishments, since I had to complete two remedial classes and four college-level courses before I could transfer out of community college. I’ve also come a long way in my English, and currently, work as a grant writer for multiple not-for-profit organizations. Writing is now my job and my passion for I now consider myself a writer.
So again, why is this relevant? Because I am the daughter of two hard working immigrants who came to the U.S. to provide me with the best education I could have. I am like many children currently enrolled in LAUSD K-12 schools, who are 1st generation Americans, and who have parents who never received the opportunity to even graduate elementary. I am also like the children who are being currently moved into different schools, in short times, so that their parents could afford paying the rent.
So my truth is like the truth of many children who are currently enrolled in failing schools. My story is relevant because with the right tools and awareness, kids who share my story can graduate feeling proud and excelling in English. In addition, they can avoid paying the price figuratively and literally.
Karen Cervantes Jimenez
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