I’m Marisol Guerra, a 36 year old Mexican American from the bay area. Growing up my family moved a lot, and at some point we wound up in Sunnyvale, California, on Homestand St. Many of you will recognize this street, because it’s blocks away from Apple Inc.
I attended different schools throughout my life, but the story I’m about to share starts during the time I attended Stocklmeir Elementary. I can only remember clips, almost like it was a movie. The majority of student populations in my schools were white and the minority were Latinx, Asian, and African American. I was in the 1st or 2nd grade, and it was a school night. I remember my parents fighting; growing up my dad would hit my mom on a regular basis. I remember that on this particular night, I felt like I was not able to do anything other than fear for my life. I was not able to fall asleep.
The next day I walked to school, which was only a few blocks away. At some point during the day, I fell asleep in class. I don’t remember the teacher’s name, but I know she was white. She stood in front of the class and yelled out my name to wake me up. She asked me to read a part of a book that the class was reading. Picture this: the whole class was looking at me, and laughing. I was frozen in shock as I tried to process what was happening to me. She kept saying, “I’m not going to move on until you read.” I was still frozen. Speechless. I replied with “I don’t know where we are at.” Her face showed frustration, and anger. She kicked me out of class. I don’t remember if she ever checked in with me, or my parents. But if she would have checked in with me, she would have known why I was tired. And why I fell asleep.
A few days later, I was pulled out of class for testing. Following that, I was sent to a special education class with other students that had learning disabilities. I was ‘LABELED.’
I was placed in special education classes throughout high school. I remember the class work my teachers gave me. Now, I understand how they failed me. They did not push me to excel. I truly believe they were there just to get paid, and did not care about my education. I currently work with TK and kinder students, because I remember how hard it was to be in class and not able to read and write at grade level. As an educator, I make sure my students understand the basics they need in order to read and spell before moving on to something new.
Many of us in special education classes were given work sheets every day that involved reading a sentence and filling in the blanks with pictures. If we were done early, we had free time to play. I spent my time drawing because I could not write, and if I did write, I could not spell. One day a friend tried to read something I wrote, and laughed at me saying, “You can’t spell, you can’t spell.” From that moment on I questioned my spelling, and still do as an adult. The teachers would sit at their desk and read recreational books. It’s like they weren’t even on the clock. Our ‘reading time’ was spent wearing glasses while looking at a computer screen and following dots to supposedly improve our comprehension.
Did it work? No. It was such a waste of MY EDUCATION!
My life at home was not changing. In fact, things were getting harder for me and my siblings. The domestic violence was still happening at home, and as we were getting older, we were beginning to understand. My brothers would get in the middle of fights to break it up. But one night, it was different. My dad hit my older brother and held my mom in a headlock. That’s when I heard the words you never want to hear from your mom, “I can’t breathe. STOP! STOP!” I was only 12 at the time. That night, I made the decision to save my mom and brothers’ lives. That night, my family broke up.
I ran as fast as I could to my Tia’s house, and called the cops. My dad left, trying to hide. But they found him and brought him back to the house to get his clothing. He knew it was me that called. All he could say to me was, “Why? Everything was okay my princess.” My parents divorced; ever since my dad has been in and out of my life.
The next day I went to school, and my teachers had no clue what happened. Life went downhill from there. It was really hard. But I was determined to finish high school no matter what. Neither of my parents attended my IEP meetings. Weeks before my senior graduation, I found out I was performing at a seventh-grade level. To graduate, I had to take a mainstream history class. I was so nervous. I had to read in front of others and my spelling was not good at all. I really pushed myself. I read the same chapters over and over. But, my perseverance paid off. I passed the class with a B, and walked the stage for my family. And more so, for myself.
When I think back, it hurts that the staff failed to provide the support I needed. Being an educator now, I feel, no, I KNOW, that I was denied the help I needed to reach my fullest potential. But now, I am the educator that I needed as a child. I push all children to reach their fullest potential. And at the same time, make sure they are doing okay.
This past October, I received my BA in Early Childhood Education as a wife, mother of three, and while working full time. I will push to be that teacher that was not there for me. I am the HEART and VOICE for those students left behind in so many areas. I will keep fighting at all levels for ALL CHILDREN! Because I am living proof they can succeed.