Not long ago, high school students in Boyle Heights shut their textbooks for a day of reflection and conversation.
A lot of education policy gurus focus on what students ought to be doing, with a big push toward college readiness. But during a recent workshop, students at Roosevelt High School’s Math, Science, and Technology Magnet Academy dared to holler back at the conventional wisdom.
"Do you feel that education is needed for a better future?" asked one student, Gilberto.
Their answers ran the gamut.
"We’re not success stories here," said Romiro. "What are you going to become? We’re low budget and our parents aren’t the best in the world."
"My dad, he didn’t finish high school and he works in construction," offered Andrea. "He owns his own house; he has money."
"That’s what you go to college for right? Networking," pointed out another student, Ricardo. "But you don’t necessarily need to go to college to establish those networks. You can go to a friend maybe."
"Let’s say they were to get fired tomorrow," shot back Eric. "Would they have the chance or opportunity to get another job right away? Compared to those that are educated, have a masters or Ph.D.?"
Many of these students are second generation Latinos, likely to become the first in their families to graduate from high school.
One of them, Marisa, said she feels guilty knowing she squandered her first two years ditching classes and ruining her chances of getting into a four-year college. She knows that some of her more dedicated classmates don’t have that opportunity because they’re undocumented.
"I think I could have done better and I would have been going, because I’m legal," said Marisa. "But I think about [an undocumented classmate], that he's not. He did, like, great, and he has a good GPA and he can’t go to a UC or something like that because of his status. I think that’s sad."
Conversations like this are the cornerstone of workshops conceived and led by the magnet school’s junior class. It’s a big part of their final grades in their English and History classes. The two-hour sessions are open to all other students in the school.
English teacher Aileen Gendrano said it’s also a way for her and her colleagues to measure their success.
"So this day is a huge relief for us because it’s everything we want," said Gendrano. "Give them the tools, the facilitation, the means, the time and see if they shine."
On this day, she said, they sparkled.