At first, he was difficult. We would sit in the corner of the classroom, and he would look me in the eyes point blank and refuse to do his math. I did not let that deter me as I returned day after day. I arrived one morning expecting it to be the same, but by the time I drove home I knew José wanted to work in the music industry, was a passionate Giants fan, and struggled making friends since immigrating here. From then on, we were more than a teacher and a student. We were friends. He was open to my help and his math skills improved significantly with countless hours of multiplication facts and fraction manipulation. I'm extremely proud of the strides he made that summer, but I am most proud of the friendship we formed, the trust that I earned, and the seed I planted about college. As an immigrant from San Salvador, José did not think college was attainable. As the days went by, I shared my excitement about college and I could see his perception changing. I hope he will act upon the seed I planted.
My path to José and his school started with a book drive through my high school leadership program where I observed rundown buildings and outdated computers in a school just 20 miles from my home. I contacted the school's principal and established a summer tutoring program, recruiting several peers to tutor with me. Four weeks of on-line math programs, reading challenges, and befriending students was insufficient; I wanted to do more. Their "Level Up Academy" on Saturday mornings provided me that opportunity, so again I recruited my friends and together we have tutored over 250 hours.
José's school opened my eyes to the disparity between schools and communities separated by just twenty miles. The difficulties these students face each day goes unnoticed. Too often we focus on the struggles of those in foreign countries and ignore the challenges of those in our own community. Dozens of 7th and 8th grade students at Josè's school read below a second grade level. The majority of the students are either first generation Americans or immigrants themselves, much like my father. As a poor first generation Cuban-American my father faced seemingly insurmountable challenges, but with a quality education he was able to escape poverty. I see a parallel between the students like José and my father, and I know that same potential is in these kids.
I'm proud of the work I put into Josè's school, but that is just step one. His school has inspired me to use politics to find policy changes that will give all students the opportunity to escape poverty. Many who want to study Political Science dream of someday living in the White House. However, I prefer to be the next Arne Duncan, not the next Frank Underwood. I owe this aspiration to my dad and one special seventh grader who struggled to speak English.