Dear Public School System,
As a child, the importance of getting my education was not stressed. It didn’t help that I was attending one of your public schools that did not care about me being there, or rather not being there. I attended one of your elementary schools miles away from my own neighborhood that was known for its great curriculum and scores, but I was one of very few Latinos attending this school. I was constantly bullied; I can only imagine that it was due to my lack of speaking the English language. Your teachers would interfere when I was being attacked (thank you, I guess), but would brush me off during class time. My favorite hiding spot was at the very top of the stairs by the mechanical room where I ate most of my meals and kept to myself to avoid any confrontation or syrup in my hair (that was so hard to get out). I explain this to you with detail because none of your staff ever noticed that I was missing. NO ONE ever asked me where I went during lunch or why I was always twirling in the hallways during class. I felt like I had the actual superpower of invisibility. But at least your library was warm, and the books were always welcoming.
In middle school, you decided to no longer provide me with transportation to a decent school outside of my zone, forcing me to attend a school from my own neighborhood. During the first week of 6th grade, a student had injured my back so badly I was taken to the emergency room by ambulance. Little did I know that this would be the first of many more brutal attacks that I would face that year alone. For the following three years, I was emotionally and physically bullied by other students, many of those beatings leading to hospitalizations, while being ignored and mistreated by teachers and staff.
I never turned in an assignment, and no one bothered to find out why. Yet, I went from 6th to 7th, 7th to 8th until I graduated middle school. But how? How did I pass your tests? After graduation, I learned that the only ones you didn’t permit to graduate were those affiliated with gangs. Wonderful! But wait, I’m still unsure about whether or not I was supposed to graduate. Congratulations public school system, you have officially failed me because after this, there was no turning point for me in my educational experience.
There was I, a 14-year-old girl counting on your system to know what was best for me. You believed that I was ready for high school. Yet, I have the clearest memory of sitting in a class during my first few weeks of high school, looking at the board and turning around to look at the rest of the class, in hopes that I would find the same confused facial expression in the faces of the other students. Most were, not all. I can’t say they were as lost as me or possibly worse. All I know is after that, all I kept in my backpack was my CD player, CDs, and batteries.
Your teachers would approach me in the hallways, would talk to me here and there, but they never took the moment in their day to sit in their chairs and wonder, “what is happening to this student for her to act this way?” Even if you cared enough to ask me, I wouldn’t have known what to answer. Your staff were the adults with knowledge of how the world works, their simple curiosity could have led to saving my childhood.
I never knew how easy it was to dropout of high school until I did. All you need is a parental signature. I left your high school doors with the belief that I was not fit to learn, I was not fit for an education. In allowing my parent to sign me out, you demonstrated to me that you agreed.
Now as an adult I am amazed that even after moving 3,000 miles away from the public school system that I attended as a child I come to find that same neglect here in California. Today I see all your flaws and I am working hard, side by side with other parents, fighting for you to change your ways. Every child deserves a better education and to feel safe where they are being educated. And one day, they all will have the opportunities that I didn’t.
College Graduate, SJSU Future Graduate and Parent Leader