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Dear Class of 2014,

I was once a little girl in Boyle Heights, raised on lunch tickets, yard sales and charity baskets.

These days, people refer to me as “Dr. Morales,” LAUSD Teacher of the Year, and National Geographic Teacher Fellow. I write this letter to remind you that you come from a vibrant neighborhood that is counting on you to play an important and inspiring role in the lives of your family, friends, and community.

I wake up every day in Boyle Heights, a community that is 94% Latino. Every morning, I drive down 7th street to Koreatown, to work at a high school that is 85% Latino. Then, I drive down Vermont to take classes at USC, where only 12% of the students in my program are Latino.

Photo by Art Torres

Photo by Art Torres

My purpose in life is to provide other students with the support and guidance that I once received, and expand their notions of what is possible. I am driven to do my part to stop the leaks in the Latina/o educational pipeline, so that we begin to see more college graduates within our communities. So that Latino students, who make up 52.7% of California’s K-12 student population, can grow up to become the leaders, policymakers, and advocates our community desperately needs. So that our kids can go to schools where more than just 17.7% of their teachers are Latina/o, and more than just 7% of the superintendents of the state look like them. So that they can go to college and see themselves reflected in more than just 4-7% of the faculty population.

Approximately half of all Latino undergraduate students are the first in their family to enroll in college, and 25% of Latinos in college come from low-income households earning less than $40,000 annually. Many of us are trailblazers, in or families and communities. I pursued a doctorate degree to demonstrate that we do belong in higher education, and it is possible to set and accomplish our academic goals.

When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone with a Master’s degree, much less a doctorate. Our community needs role models, and I got this degree to show my students, my family, and my community that even though we don’t see many people like us with advanced degrees, it CAN be done.

Congratulations, Class of 2014, on all that you have already accomplished, and on the important role that you’re playing for our community. Hechenle ganas, and remember that we’re all paving a path for others to follow.

Isabel Morales, Ed.D.
USC Class of 2014
Boyle Heights resident

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) recently selected Isabel Morales as one of its 2014-2015 Teachers of the Year. Morales has been teaching high school social studies for the past ten years, developing community-based learning experiences for her students.

3 Responses

  1. Avatar

    I have a daughter that graduated also that day, and we as family pretty much all went to Roosevelt so I have seen a change in the community, I’m seeing more teens interested in school, I also notice a lot of more programs so there is a lot less gang violence in my area of Boyle Heights, I know the schools in the area have a lot to do with programs and activities for these kids.

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    Armando Zumaya

    Righteous words ! I graduated in 1980. Yeah in the dark ages !! I still love Boyle Heights and know I had a unique upbringing that made me stronger than most. People will try to make you feel like you come from a bad place with lots of disadvantages. When you go to richer places, meet kids who went to expensive schools you can without anyone saying a word feel less. When this happened to me in college I felt different. Like I was better BECAUSE I came from East La. Because of my culture, my family, because of that neighborhood. Shoot high and let no person tell you your less. Hold your head high. I have been to halls of power in NYC, Washington DC and elsewhere. Have sat down with the wealthiest most powerful people in the US. I have not felt less, but more because of my Boyle Heights roots. Like calls you, bring it.

    Armando Zumaya, Class of 1980

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    Petra Lucio

    As a parent of three, living in Boyle Heights, with my youngest child just completing 9th grade, it saddens me to know that many of his friends are failing their classes in the public education system. We must encourage, praise and find resources for our youth. As I was searching for summer programs for my son, many of the programs were excellent programs but very costly, from $2000.00 or higher. We must come together as a community and reach out to these youngsters before it is too late.


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