Next week, many families in Boyle Heights will get the chance to see their daughter or son walk the graduation stage and start the rest of their lives.
Many of them will go to college and achieve some part of the American dream, and some of these young people will come back to their family and give back to their community.
Most teachers are looking forward to hearing about the successes of our students who are determined and progressing, but I guess I am a little different. I more often think””and sometimes worry”” about those students who do not have a clear path laid out, who are more often just happy to be graduating. I get the feeling that we sometimes forget our students still need an extra push, even if they have left our classes and graduated.
As the school year is coming to an end at Roosevelt High School, I began thinking: whatever happened to metal-loving Greg, or Maggie, the avid runner, or that really weird kid who only ever talked in monotone whose name I sadly cannot remember? All those kids who made it to graduation, but did not go directly to college, what happened to them?
So I reached out to a few of my former students who, because of their wit, their good heart, their solitude or their resilience, made themselves memorable in some way.
I cannot say I was surprised to find my students are fighting that greatest of enemies, inertia. It turns out many of them had lacked focus when they graduated, and although they looked into some form of college, they quickly became disenchanted and frustrated with the lack of guidance.
After high school, Carolina Reyes, the voracious reader who graduated in 2010, wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. “I just wanted to take a year off to figure out what I wanted to do and I think it was just kind of a waste of my time. I could have been going to school,” she said. Carolina, like many, had a clear goal, but wasn’t exactly sure what she really wanted. She had followed what people had told her to do, but after graduation, the support and guidance was no longer there.
A common trend also experienced by many students is lack of support from their families. This was the case for Greg Juarez, also class of 2010. “I could have done a lot more…could have gone to the Marines, but I decided to get lazy. I had no motivation, my mom and my family were against [the Marines].”
Maggie Bustos was someone who I remembered fondly. She was one of the first students who ever expressed enjoying my class, and by the time I caught up with her, she was incredibly full of life. Maggie had many plans at first, but just like Greg, shared that she lacked focus. She attributed it to not knowing what to do and felt that with more support it would not have taken three years to be able to say she was on the right path.
Like many youth who struggle, these former students of mine had a hard time at first, but with a little time, and a bit of growing up, they started to piece things together and transition.
After listening to them, I was truly happy that I had reached out, since I was able to see how much they had grown as people. Greg plans on getting his associate degree, and then joining the Police Academy; Caro is looking forward to going to college, and not stopping until she graduates; and Maggie is running fast towards being a nurse. Overall, in my opinion, they are coming into their own.
They were all happy to see me, and happy to share their lives. For the most part, all were doing what I truly had hoped for when I had them in my class, which was to become honest, hard-working adults.
Carolina put it quite eloquently, “I want to become the best person I could, not just for myself, but for those around me that care about me.”
Gene K. Dean is currently an English teacher at Roosevelt High School and adviser for The Roughrider newspaper. Referred to as weirdly, athletically nerdy, a voracious reader, a brick wall, and a dedicated teacher, Gene looks forward to essay grading, reading and keeping odd hours to promote social justice.