I met Leslie during a PE class at East Los Angeles Community College (ELAC), the school that we both attend.
However, Leslie is still in high school, which isn’t that unusual. Some of high schoolers start taking college courses before graduation, because their college counselors inform them of the benefits which include boosting their GPA and transferable units that can cut their time to degree completion. Taking community college classes while in high school reflects a student’s drive, responsibility and determination, all of which are attributes that colleges and universities are looking for.
But Leslie wasn’t always college bound. There was a time when she wasn’t even sure she was going to graduate. While we jogged in class, we talked, and she shared her experience and the path she is on now.
Leslie always felt she was behind in school, and she felt it was it had a lot had to do with her elementary school years. She was part of the spanish speaking program that separated the English speakers from Spanish speaking students. The program was supposed to teach Spanish speaking students both languages, but she felt it confused her more than anything. She was placed in regular classes in middle school, and this is when when she fully grasped the English language. By this time, she had built a perception about her capabilities. Leslie felt that she was less than her peers and accepted that she would not be eligible to be in advanced or honors classes. It was tough for her to be motivated in school.
In high school, her report card sang the same song with a few Bs and several Cs and Ds. Many times Leslie didn’t want to try to improve her grades because she felt that it was pointless. Then her sisters and parents stepped in. They understood her struggle.
Leslie’s two sisters went to ELAC after high school, the oldest transferred to California State University, Dominguez Hills last year and her second oldest sister received her associate’s degree this year. They have played a major role in Leslie’s redirection when her grades were suffering. They advised her to get tutoring. When the teachers who were not helpful closed their doors, she looked for other teachers and other outlets, as her family instructed.
While trying to improve her grades, Leslie witnessed classmates who got good grades during middle school now struggle in high school. Some of her classmates even gave up on school, which shook her up. She did not want to be that student.
Leslie and her sisters created a plan to get her back on track at the end of the 10th grade, she initiated a meeting with her counselor, where she expressed she wanted to graduate and make up non-passing grades. The response she got from her counselor was disturbing, he told her that there was nothing more she could do and that it was too late to make up classes. Leslie received no support from him. When she realized he was not willing to hear her plan out, she simply asked for transcripts and got help outside of school. My ears could not believe what she was telling me, and I also wondered how many more students were in her shoes with no help on the outside.
Leslie did not let the discouraging high counselor stop her. She and her sisters got information about summer sessions and adult school to make up the low grades. Once she made up those credits, she went on to the second phase of her plan.
Leslie and her parents went in and spoke to the counselor once more, this time it was simply to lay out what she had accomplished and to demand a specific class schedule. They asked for her senior year schedule to be set up in a way to make high school graduation requirements in the morning part of her schedule and be available to take community college courses after noon every day. She got the schedule she needed to implement the second phase of her plan.
Leslie also joined Mexican American Opportunity Foundation , a youth program recommended by a cousin who will start UC Merced this fall. This program has helped her with free tutoring, study skills training, higher education planning, volunteer opportunities, paid and unpaid work experiences including internships and job shadowing. She said being around students who were experiencing the same struggles and were now succeeding really motivated her.
The plan Leslie and her support group created outside of school has made a difference in her confidence, she now has the college vision that her high school never gave her.
She will be a senior in a couple of weeks, and she will be a full-time college student as well. She will attend her regular high school for half of the day, and the rest of her time will be used to complete college classes at ELAC. By the she graduates high school, Leslie will have completed at least 18 out of 37 semester units in community college.
After graduation, Leslie plans to continue to attend ELAC. She will need less than two full time semesters in order to transfer to a Cal State or UC. She is following the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum. Another great thing is that Leslie’s plan has been completely free. She qualified for financial assistance for tuition and books since she is a public high school student.
Not only is the college experience helping prepare Leslie for her future, she says she can do the high school work without struggle. She is now earning As and Bs. She has gained confidence and realized she that she is not a remedial student as her school labeled her but is bound for a four year institution.
Although she is still progressing through her goals, Leslie hopes to reach out to as many students and parents with her experience, telling them not to let the school label their worth. If you are not getting what you need from your school don’t sit and wait, speak up! There is hope and there are people who can help you put a plan in place to achieve your goals.
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