If you take a look at my first blog written in 2011 (Who, What, When, Where and Why’s of Julia R.), you can get a glimpse of my cultural background and what my formal education history looks like. However, things did not turn out the way I wrote them on that blog, hence the reason why I am writing the truth about my formal education.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about my primary education years back in the Dominican Republic, what I do remember is that I did not really like school. I remember avoiding my homework at all cost, pretending I did not have homework, only to feel the consequences of such when progress reports were sent home and I was not doing well in my classes. Miraculously, I managed to keep a B average in most of my classes and passed. I also remember making my cousins late to school because I would be the last one to get up from the bed and I would take my sweet time getting ready in the morning and having breakfast (I apologize Miguelina & Esmeralda, I did it purposely). I went to school in the Dominican Republic until the beginning of 7th grade. I remember attending the first week of the school year 2002-2003 and never returning.
About a week later I was sitting in the intake office of a middle school in the Bronx. I did not know any English, the only words I knew were the days of the week, months, the alphabet, some basic words like ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and possibly I knew how to count until ten or twenty. Therefore, I was enrolled in the Bilingual Education program at my middle school. All my classes were taught in Spanish, except for my English class, where I was learning Basic English and reading first-grade level books for homework. That year I learned a tough lesson about education. I learned that not liking school was not an option; I had to hustle and make sure that I did well in all my classes because I was expected to fail. I learned that I could not be shy about speaking in English or learning a new language, I needed to learn the language in order to be successful. That was the one thing that no one could take away from me, my education. Just like I tell my students regularly, “you can lose everything in life, and things can be taken away, but there is one thing no one can take away from you, and that is your education”. I lost everything when I move away from the Dominican Republic, but I gained, even more, once I arrived in NYC.
Two years later, I started high school. What was special about my high school is that everyone in the school was new to the country, we were all learning a new language and getting acquainted with a new culture. In high school, I was a lot more confident about my education, I felt more comfortable with the English language as I understood and spoke it more proficiently. I loved high school and enjoyed my experiences there; the staff and students made it a place I wanted to be in every day. Even though I know I could have been challenged more academically (I learned this when I started undergraduate school – will be described in part two of this blog), I learned a lot about myself, and the kind of person I wanted to become.
In high school, I learned to accept myself for who I was and I took pride in being at the top of my class. Everyone knew everyone in my graduating class by first and last name, something that not many people are able to say. I consider myself lucky to have been a part of such a great class of students because I learned a lot from each one of them and I am sure they all learned something from me. I am very proud of all the great things my former classmates have accomplished. I am especially proud because we all got to accomplish something we probably were not sure we were going to obtain. Maybe because coming from another country a lot of the benchmarks seemed unattainable, or maybe because someone may have told us that we will become high school drop-outs because we will either end up in jail or become a teen mom. And this is what I say to anyone who has been told these words, just because someone says it will happen, it does not mean it needs to, and even if you do end up in jail or become a teen mom, know that you can still graduate and earn that degree because it is possible and there will always be a way, even if it does not seem like there is.
Please remember your education is something that no one can take away from you. And if you want to graduate, then graduate, earn that degree, do not listen to anyone telling you otherwise. Wear your labels proudly and don’t let anyone tell you that you are worthless because of them.
I could easily write a book about what I learned as a result my high school experiences, however, this is what I am going to leave you with. The highlight of my high school education is that I learned to accept myself for who I became when I moved to NYC, who I became as a result of my experiences in a new country. I became a young, bilingual, immigrant, Hispanic woman educated in New York City’s public school system (please be aware that this is the introductory sentence of my graduate school personal statement, but I am getting ahead of myself).
The second part of my formal education experience will be posted next week. Have a great week, and please remember to Live.Learn.Soar!
XO – Julia