Tag Archives: education

I got into Stanford and I’m a Stanford Kinda Gal

9 Oct

I can’t remember how I first heard about Stanford and started dreaming that I would attend one day. I do remember the walks home from Roosevelt High School freshman year vividly.  I lugged my backpack over my hunched shoulders, leaning forward to offset the weight, and dreamt. As I passed by the Food 4 Less parking lot I dreamt about getting the acceptance letter. As I passed by the 7 Mares, I dreamt about walking on campus and attending lecture. I dreamt and I dreamt until I walked into my home.

My life took many turns and the Stanford dream slipped away, seemingly impossible to reach.

Three years ago, Bella, Iza, and I made the joint decision to uproot our lives and move to the bay area. A few months later, I enrolled in the local community college and went to school on Thursday nights, Saturdays, and online. For almost three years I juggled a demanding career, being a mother, being a partner, and school. I studied after everyone went to sleep and studied before anyone woke up. At times it seemed impossible to continue. But no matter the road bumps, I made it work. I persevered.

When I kept getting straight A’s semester after semester, the Stanford dream crept back in. But this time it wasn’t a dream, it was a fantasy. During my morning runs I would pound the pavement for 5 miles or more until my body could take no more. I think I was physically punishing my body. Punishing myself for daring to dream about Stanford. I equated that dream to fantasizing about becoming a billionaire (from my multiple successful startups of course) and solving the world’s problems. I didn’t dare hope that it could happen.

When it was time to apply I applied to the UCs and hoped that Berkeley would say yes. I started the Stanford application weeks ahead of the deadline but didn’t know if I would submit it. I loved the questions they asked, how thoughtful and insightful they were. I enjoyed working on the application and I figured it didn’t hurt to write. I could always use those answer for my UC applications.

As the deadline neared I agonized about asking for recommendation letters. I felt like others would see me as ridiculous for daring to apply. But I asked.

The night that the application was due, I kept toying with the submission button. Everyone was asleep and I was downstairs staring at the screen until I hit submit at 11:30 pm.

I would have put it completely out of mind if not for Ryan telling everyone that I applied to Berkeley and Stanford. I appreciated his confidence but I felt incredibly pained when he said it out loud. I could see others thinking – Does she know the acceptance rate hovers around 1 – 2 %?

I found out that I got into Berkeley the day after I had Valentina. I thought we were set to move to Berkeley and make it work.

During the drive up to Berkeley for a transfer student welcome event I figured that I would log in and check the response from Stanford. I had received an email the day before from Stanford and had to request a password reset to access my account. I hadn’t told Ryan that I had a response. I neededed to compose myself and process the rejection by myself first before telling him. I figured I was in such a high from getting into Berkeley that I could take the rejection. Valentina, only a few days old, slept in the car seat next to me. My mother (staying with us for a couple of weeks to help) sat on the other side. Ryan was driving and braving traffic as the day was grey with fog and rain.  I logged in from my phone and saw the letter. I read the first few lines. Puzzled, I read it again. My blood ran cold and I felt disoriented; only the heaviness in my stomach anchored me to my seat.  “One of the best parts of my job…” Only after I read it a third time did I cry out suddenly, “OH MY GOD!” “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Ryan braked and accidentally exited the freeway. He and my mother both looked at me with a mix of bewilderment and concern. “What’s wrong?!”

I couldn’t speak. I took a breath, and another. “I GOT INTO STANFORD!”

My mom teared up and Ryan cried out. He pulled over and parked on the side of a road and I read them the acceptance letter. I called my sister and told her. We screamed with joy and excited energy.

We did attend the orientation event and I was inspired by the future Berkeley students but I was still dazed by the news. We left early and went home to tell Bella and Iza.

A few weeks later and I’m now two weeks into my first quarter at Stanford. It is everything and so much more that I dreamt it would be. This place is paradise. I feel an incredible sense of belonging, of being cared for and guided, and of the infinite possibilities for my future (well finite only because at some point I will have to graduate).

When I started this blog I wondered if and when I would be able to write happy stories. Would I only be sharing stories of pain and survival? Would I ever be able to share stories about my life thriving?

I am incredibly fortunate to have so many people around me that love me and that I can pour my love into. My life has been healthy and happy. But it is now bursting with the promise of personal achievement. I thought that I had permanently failed all of my great teachers, coaches, and cheerleaders from my youth when my life took a different path. But I now have the luxury and great fortune to be able to go back to school and invest in myself.

Now I run without bounds. I recognize no limits. I’m taking life by the horns and making it my b!tch. And damn, does it feel good.

Seeing the Gray in Others – and Doing Something About it

26 Mar

When you go for a walk, while you shop at the grocery store, on a bench outside of work, on the sidewalk, in a class room, you see it…

The slouch of the posture
the roundness of the shoulders
eyes that seem to spill with sadness
behind a large swallow

Downcast eyes
searching for an answer
a tentative sigh
as if afraid to take the most natural step of life

Shakiness of a sentence
a heaviness of the body
sagging
towards earth

Life spent in a muted gray. Sadness, in its most cruel form: depression. What can you do? If you knew, would you actually do it?

A smile. A meeting of the eyes with kindness in your look, even if the moment is fleeting.

A connection.
A reminder that they are seen.
A feeling of validation that they hold a place in this world.
An assertion of existence.
Hope.

In our children, nieces/nephews, in kids of our friends, we learn how cruel words or actions by another can make a deep impact on their vulnerable and developing psyche and we have seen as a society a concerted effort to prevent bullying and the mistreatment of children at that impressionable age.

But what happens when those children who are under-cared, under-loved, under-appreciated, abused even, grow into adults? No longer seen as cute, vulnerable, or helpless – they are commonly tossed aside, dismissed – as if with age (and no help) they are magically cured of the fog that weighs them down.

A small gesture that might make you slightly uncomfortable, a smile to a stranger (I’m not asking you to walk around staring at strangers with wide toothy grins either), can make a difference, however small, on the recipient of your kindness.

My fellow Angelenos, whether native or transplants, I know what you’re thinking as you roll your eyes – eye contact AND a smile? But then I won’t be able to conserve my hip disinterested Hollywood cool look! Alas, no one is as cool as James Dean, and I bet that even he looked a little awkward walking around LA and would have benefited from a kind smile too.

If it’s someone who you know through work, ask them to join you for a cup of coffee or actually stop as you pass by their desk and say a warm hello. Nothing big. Feel the warmth and the kindness as you do it and they will feel it too.

Small acts of kindness, that’s not asking for much. On my first day to class at the local community college, I was frantically looking for where I had to pay the parking fee when a fellow student told me that the first week was free to allow for a smooth transition for students. That’s two acts of kindness there: that student didn’t have to tell me anything and could have walked off as I scurried around, and the school for giving a person a break! I asked the student where the B building was and they graciously showed me the way.

On my second week of class as I was pulling up to the meter to pay for the daily pass of parking, another fellow student gave me their daily pass as they were leaving and wished me an early Christmas (it was February) as they smilingly drove away.

On the fourth week of class, I saw someone else asking students for change (for the parking) looking increasingly frustrated as no one did. I didn’t either but when I walked back to my car to retrieve my belongings I noticed I did have the exact change and nothing more. My last $2 in cash. I walked over and gave them to him, and as he tried to hand a $5 I waved it off and said, “offer $2 to someone else who might need it as repayment”. He was very thankful and touched and I felt REALLY good, really ALIVE as I walked away.

Small acts of kindness, of human interaction, no matter how old we are or from what walk of life we are, make a difference. They pay in higher dividends than the bogus schemes of Wall Street bankers. 😉

Share your moment of kindness – given or received!

La Migra

1 Sep

We went out to the Geffen MOCA and dinner with AM and her boys on Thursday evening.  As we settled down with our sushi and rambunctious kiddos, we started talking shop, as AM fondly refers to it.

A year had passed since I changed careers, a career that she so generously recommended me for and positioned me perfectly for.  In a year I had learned that this was the perfect vehicle for my ambition, hard worth ethic, and all around personality of a control freak. 🙂  I had just received a promotion and she wondered how I came to possess the professionalism, poise, and ability to navigate and distinguish myself while working at a high-powered law firm and coming from Boyle Heights with my highest education being at Roosevelt HS  no less (a school whose distinction includes being featured in the documentary Waiting for Superman as an educational fail factory).

As far as my work ethic, that’s easy I told her, I get it from my mother.  She taught me that you can reach whatever you want as long as you are willing to work hard enough for it.  And she certainly lead by example, always holding two jobs when we were growing up so she could achieve her dream of being a homeowner.

But as far as poise and the “intuitive knowledge required in marketing” that she kindly stated I possessed, in a way that came from my mother as well…

When I was a kid I had a neighbor who for lack of a nicer term was a bona fide pocha.  Her ancestors were of Latino descent but the Spanish, customs, and any semblance of pride or relatable qualities to them had long ago been stomped out.  She had learned a strong dislike towards anyone with an accent, anyone who ate carne asada and tortillas, anyone who spent summers in Mexico, anyone like me.

A combination of niceness, ability to forgive, and low self-esteem kept making me forgive her and be subject to her constant pranks.

My parents would not allow us to play outside of the chain link fence that surrounded the perimeter of our home so we would play with our Barbies through the holes of this wall that separated us.  Joanna would excuse herself and go off to get her Barbie Malibu car and I would keep combing the hair on my dolls.  Then a shreeking siren with a piercing pitch would fill my eyes with terror and send me sprinting to the backyard.  I would deftly pull all of the dirty linen from  the laundry bin and jump inside, pulling the musty smelling sheets on top of me.  I would lay there huddled in a fetal position immobilized with fear until it dawned on me that she had done it again.  I would break out in a cold sweat as relief and anger would hit me and spread throughout my body in a glistening sheen, the anxiety oozing out of my pores.

I would take a deep breath and walk back to my side of the fence where the cackle of Joanna’s laughter would be ringing in my ears long after it had died down.  I would pick up my toys without a word and stand up to walk away.  “You’re not mad are you?  I was just joking, you should have seen how scared you were!!! Hahahaha!”  I couldn’t utter a word or the tears welling in my eyes would come crashing down stripping me of any dignity that I had left.

My mother was smuggled into the U.S. as a child using someone else’s identity.  She remembers these poignant events in her mind as if they were yesterday.  She still laments having to cut her beautiful waist length hair up to her ears so she could match the passport’s picture of the girl she was usurping.  And when she recalls working in the factories that were the constant target of immigration raids in the 70’s, her eyes glaze over and I have to shake her to bring her back and out of her painful past.

She was 14 and worked at a curtain manufacturing factory as a seamstress’ assistant in downtown Los Angeles.  She would work two shifts, from five in the morning to nine or ten in the evening.

The terrible sound of the siren broke through the monotony of their work and the constant humming of the sowing machines and hissing of the steamer were replaced with frantic cries of “La Migra!!”

Chaos everywhere as people ran into each other, running up and down the stairs, crawling out the windows, but bodies everywhere being slammed against the wall my ICE, the immigration agents thugs that swept throughout the halls with snarling excited dogs ready to attack.

Someone pushed her into an armoire and piled curtains on top of her and she lay there immobile, waiting for the wails to die down into a whimper and the silence that followed.  Her heart thumping sounded so loud and ominous that she thought there were heavy footsteps heading towards her.  Her heart stopped and absolute silence filled her body as she heard the dog barking at the door, clawing to get in and claim its prize.  The doors were swung open and light fell on her face as she stared right into a snapping dog, the breath sour in her face.  As sudden as it was there it was gone and the ICE agent looked straight into her eyes, deep down into her soul, and he must have seen a skinny bony kid who stood at 4’11” terrified out of her mind.  She heard someone call out “All Clear?!” and she closed her eyes, ready to be yanked out with the hundred others that were detained outside.  But she was enclosed in darkness instead and thought, Am I dead?  She lay there for what seemed like hours before her bones and limbs ached so badly that she had to move before she would be unable to.

She walked out, through the eerily quiet hallways and out into the evening light where everyone went about their business as usual.  Somehow she found herself home and surrounded by her siblings and worried parents.  They had been calling around the neighborhood, fearing her in Tijuana, MX, wandering along with the other lost living ghosts that walk up and down the border.

My mother had many stories like these, and I took them on as warning to never trust the siren, to fear it, for it meant that it would break me away from my loved ones and turn me into the walking dead along the border.

When I was old enough to realize that this siren could no longer harm me (my parents eventually became U.S. residents through the Bush administration’s amnesty), I realized that the simple fact that I had been born in U.S. soil exempted me from this fear of being flicked away from this country.  By then I had learned to adapt so that I would appear to belong.  I spent hours memorizing the pages of the dictionary, practicing the sentences, trying to decipher the pronunciation, so that no one could identify me as not belonging to U.S. soil.

As I became a teenager, I learned that the more I assimilated, both in posture and confidence, the easier it was to camouflage my brown skin and blend into the background.  What AM thought was intuitive poise and the confidence to succeed was pure survival skills bourne from the need to adapt and go unnoticed.

Escape to College

10 Nov

“You have to write an essay about college and what you think you need to get into one.” Mr. Escobar was writing furiously on the board. There were three columns ‘community college’, ‘cal state school’, and ‘UC’s’. “What about private schools Mister?” “What do you know about private schools Lorena?” “Like Harvard and Yale or Georgetown, what if we plan on going to a private school?” “Don’t worry about private schools, you can’t afford them. Focus on high school before you get married.”

I drowned him out and started thinking about what the requirements were to get into each school system. The library at school didn’t have anything about colleges, it didn’t seem to get used either. Instead of walking home I headed over to Malabar library and started pulling out the college prep books. An hour later I ran home with essay in hand.

Shit… As I got closer I could already feel his daggers sinking into my skin. My tio was standing by the gate with a beer in hand, blocking the entrance. Beer cans were all over the front garden and steps. Mi Apa was leaning on the fence with his head back beer to his lips. He gulped it down and before he could squeeze it and throw it aside, my tio handed him another Bud Light.
I hated it when they drank in front of the house. That’s why I never invited anyone over, why couldn’t they drink in the back?

“Hola tio. Hola papi.” “Saluda a tu tio bien, ven para aca.” I walked back and gave my uncle a quick hug, trying to mask my disgust.

“Donde estabas?” “En la biblioteca, tenia que escribir-” “Ve ayudale a tu madre!”

I ran up the stairs and went inside. My mother was in the kitchen heating up the food cursing my uncle for making my father drink, as if he had to be persuaded! She looked up just as I walked by. “Where were you?!” “I went to the library. I had homework.” “Get the table ready and take off your uniform.”

I cleaned the table, took out the salsa and started warming up tortillas. “Go call your father to dinner.”

“Papi, ya esta la cena. Papi, ya esta servido sus platos.” “Huhhh. Hmmm!”

All he could fucking do after so many beers was grunt like a stupid animal.

As they finally pulled themselves away from their beer they sauntered over to the table. I tried to sneak back into my room but my uncle pulled my arm and told me to sit next to him. I hated that fucking smell. He placed his arm around me and asked me about school.

“Para que tienes que ir a la bibliotheca? Aqui tienes todo lo que necesitas para hacer tu tarea.” My dad pointed to his head.
“Pero no tenemos computadora para el internet papi.” “No necesitas internet, cuando yo era nino yo aprendi todo mientras que trabajaba en las cosechas.”

Always going on about he was so smart in school and how he learned everything faster and how he had to do it all while he worked in the farm and missed four months of school during the crop season. He could never say anything good about me, neither one of them. If Mexico was so fucking great, what were we doing here? Why hadn’t he gone beyond the 3rd grade?

“Que Buena esta la comida Maria.” “Gracias Jorge.”

“Esta mierda? Si no vas a cocinar bien, ya te dije que no cocines!”

“Yeah whatever.” My mom got up to clear her dish. “Can’t even talk with your stupid crooked mouth. You look so ugly when you‘re drunk.”

My father got up, grabbed his hot plate and threw it at my mom, beans and hot pieces of meat flying all over my mother’s face.
“Pinche babosa! Callate la boca!”

My father’s eyes were opened wide full of rage. They seemed to change color when he snapped, his bloodshot eyes bulging out and his eye brows two angry lines cut into his face.

I got up and stood between them. I started to clean up and I could see him swaying over me unsure of what to do before he walked to his bedroom and slammed the door so hard that the veneer cracked.

My tio got up and muttered an apology before he scurried off.

My mother started crying uncontrollably about what a miserable asshole he was so I led my younger siblings into their room.

“It’s okay mom. He doesn’t deserve you. You deserve so much better. Just ignore him, he’s drunk.”

“Why does he always have to call me names? I told him so many times to not call me stupid! He’s stupid, he couldn’t live without me. When I leave then who’s stupid!”

“Mami, we CAN leave. We can live in an apartment and we would do all of the cooking and cleaning. You could go back to school and take computer classes and you could get an office job like you wanted. If you got a divorce we would go with you and help you mami. We don’t need the house and we could be happy.”

When she looked at me I knew that I had gone too far. She would never leave him. She would never be able to walk out the door.

“I stay with him for you guys. For my kids, that’s why I stay. So you can have a family and have a better life.”

“Yes mami, I know. I love you. Do you want to sleep in my bed? I can sleep on the sofa.”

I finished cleaning the dishes as she went off to my bed and I felt a huge lump of guilt bobbing up and down on my throat. What if he heard me? I should have known. She would never leave.

School Search: Solano Elementary

9 Nov

It seems like I have been looking for a school since Bella and Iza were kicking in my belly: first there was the traumatic daycare hunt that aged me five years, then the pre-school stressor and now the hovering animal called Kindergarten. To keep other Downtown parents from my fate, this series will showcase schools and day cares that can save your sanity, beauty and youth.

Solano Elementary is the needle in a LAUSD haystack. I considered not sharing it, out of fear that my own kids will not be able to get in when you all rush to enroll. My excitement got the best of me, though, and I decided that this local school is too good to keep to myself.

Back in January we published an excel list comparing test scores and diversity of elementary schools surrounding Downtown Los Angeles and the school that people usually mention as a solution for Downtown — Castelar Elementary — did not look so stellar. I didn’t know about Solano back then, so don’t think I was holding back as part of some evil-minded selfish motivation for my own children. Anyway, they were too young back then for those thoughts to cross my mind.

Since then, though, I had heard good things about Solano Elementary, just slightly farther from the heart of Downtown. To investigate, I scheduled an interview with Principal Richard Hickcox.

To get there, I walked a couple of blocks to 8th/Hill and hopped on Metro bus 83. 20 minutes later I was at Broadway and Solano. A quick walk up the hill brought me to the 110 freeway. A moment after doubting Google maps I saw there was an underground tunnel to get across to the other side. That sight activated new fears of gangs and darkness, but as you can witness from this article I made it safely to the other side and the shining educational beacon that goes by the name of Solano Elementary.

The school’s ethnicity breakdown is 57% Asian, 33.6% Hispanic, 3.8% Filipino, 3.0 % White, 2.6% Black. They have an Academic Performing Index (API) of 915, they were awarded the Blue Ribbon Award this year, they consistently score above the target test scores and they have low enrollment.
Those are beautiful words to a parent — Open Enrollment means that you do not have to live in the area to apply to get in the school even though they are not a magnet or charter. The school currently has about 243 students and has pre-school through 6th grade.
Principal Hickcox was beyond generous with his time in speaking to me about his school because after 10 years at Solano, it should be referred as HIS school. His planned retirement is in three years and though his shoes will be hard to fill, I hope that the next up for the job is school coordinator Ms. Garrison. She is not only a 2008 Milken Educator of the Year recipient but also a clear indicator of what a good devoted teacher can do to a classroom. Her 4th graders scored in the 93rd percentile in English Language Arts and in the 100th percentile for Mathematics (2008-2009 school year).
As I followed Principal Hickcox to the auditorium/library/pre-school room it quickly became evident that he is efficient and resourceful; the pre-school room resides in half of the auditorium, there are “offices” for Ms. Garrison and teachers on the auditorium stage and shelves divide the pre-K from the computer lab/library.
The wonderful thing is that Principal Hickcox has taken what the budget cuts have left him with and made it work in the interim (cue monetary donations).
The library is brimming with books and even though it had a lot going on it still managed to look tidy and roomy. Little hands clicked and typed away at the Apple computers that were purchased with a donation from the Los Angeles Dodgers via the Adopt-A-School program. When was the last time you stepped into an inner-city LAUSD school and observed three and four year-old kids easily navigating a computer?
As we made our way into the award-decorated hallway; picture samples that the first-grade students had done celebrating Latino Culture caught my eye. At which grade level do the students learn to read I wondered out loud? “Let me show you”, Principal Hickcox told me as he led me into a class room whose walls were a testament to the hard work of the teachers at Solano; reading and writing prompts remind the student what is required in their thought and articulation process and another poster listed the grading rubric to explain what was required in order to have a successful paper in the class.
The students have major writing assignments, writing workshops available to them, homework club after school, and a six week writing process that preps them for college. They are tested and evaluated on their ability to write a six-week term paper and a two hour on-demand paper (one hour for prepping and one hour the next day for the actual writing process). Does this bring back nightmares of high school and college papers exams? Try doing this at the 1st through 6th grade level. Even the pre-K and Kindergartners have a book of the month to which they are required to respond using art and dictation.
The school motto says it all: “Believe in Yourself, Work Hard, Get Smart.”
There are cracks in the glorious trophy that Solano Elementary, and LAUSD would do well to make sure it preserves and improves such a prize asset.
Since the budget cuts that LAUSD went through, Solano Elementary lost two teaching positions. That forced them to have a Kinder/1st grade and 4th/5th grade combination class. There was even a move to make Principal Hickcox oversee two schools simultaneously, but that idea was fortunately abandoned after pressure from the parents and staff.
So now you’re in the know. There are solutions within LAUSD and though it will not be the answer for everyone, you should do your homework now and see if Solano Elementary meets your needs. With those test scores and zero tuition, it certainly meets mine.

Published November 19, 20019
http://blogdowntown.com/2009/11/4868-school-search-solano-elementary

Silicon Valle MX

The Mexican tech scene

Lucesitas.com

Inmigracion: Intercambio de experiencias, consejos y preguntas sobre la CITA en CIUDAD JUAREZ

On the Fast Lane with the Flying Monkeys

Taking Life by the Horns and Making it Mine: Bad Ass Student, Professional, and Mother to 3

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

ChicanaBlogs

Smile! You’ve entered the poet's Blog

Flat-Footed

Surviving Los Angeles one step at a time

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.