So many students are hurting; listen and learn from their views

As I wake each morning, I tell myself, “Thank you, God, for another day; may I encounter smiles on people’s faces.” I walk to school and I run into a lot of my fellow students. Sadly, I can tell some are hurting inside. I wonder about their stories and if they receive help at school rather than just being taught.

Lately, there have been many articles in the news media about school dropout and truancy rates. Schools have improved, but some issues remain. Programs are being implemented to solve the problems, but what about the students’ opinions? After all, we know what it’s like in school, what is and isn’t working. Rather than just hearing us out, why can’t actions include our opinions?

I have been in the shoes of these students, wondering and asking myself questions daily. In elementary school, I wondered why students were given differing resources and why some didn’t receive any at all. For example, it was a given that English learners needed assistance, but others who had the same reading comprehension level as English learners were not given the necessary help just because they were not “classified” as English language learners. I also wondered why some students would constantly get in trouble and be suspended continuously, and why there wasn’t much done to help them stay in school and improve.

Years passed as I transitioned to middle school. The issues and disagreements became physical, harmful fights. The faces of students I once knew in elementary school drifted away. I had no clue who my old classmates had become. I wondered if they were OK, if they attended school, and if they were accomplishing their goals.

Now, as a senior in high school, I have seen a great number of students drop out for various reasons. Watching this happen not only affected me, but it made my community unhealthy.

I see so much talent in these students. Some students are unable to know their talents in school because they feel there is no point in going to class if they are just going to be sent out of the classroom. Of course, it may be reasonable to send out a student for acting up, but it is also reasonable to find out why the student is acting up in the first place.

Since freshman year, I have been involved with groups like Californians For Justice, a student-led racial justice organization working for better schools and lower dropout rates. I have also become involved in Building Healthy Communities, a campaign of the California Endowment whose goal is to support the development of communities where kids and youth are healthy, safe, and ready to learn.

In Building Healthy Communities, I participate in Project SUCCESS (Students United to Create a Climate of Engagement, Support and Safety), where our focus is to ensure that schools provide a supportive environment and reach out to help students stay on target to graduate. Whether it is listening to the issues happening at home, hearing the reasons that lead students to fight, or helping students think of better ways to solve conflicts, we should see more students staying in school, not more students suspended or expelled. We need to keep students in school and see them move on to graduation instead of watching them fail.

These programs have helped me build the skills I didn’t know I had inside. Most of all, they help my voice grow and be heard.

The youth voice is worth listening to. We are the most affected by these issues, and we must build a voice with several ideas to find solutions.

We might be portrayed as just “kids,” but people always leave out the fact that we are “just kids with answers.” Why else would we give up our Friday nights, our weekends, and even our holidays to discuss how we can help improve education and keep our peers in school? Our voices must be heard, too.

Miriam Hernandez is a senior at Roosevelt High School in Fresno and a student campaign chair with Californians for Justice (CFJ), which is part of the Campaign for Quality Education.

California at a crossroads: my generation’s future hangs in balance

Today I’m traveling to Sacramento, along with hundreds of student and parent leaders from across California, to deliver an urgent but simple message to the State Legislature and the Governor: It’s time to upgrade California’s education system.

We’re coming to our state’s capitol as part of the Campaign for Quality Education, a statewide coalition of grassroots, civil rights, policy, and research organizations committed to educational equity for all communities in California’s public schools. We travel from the gritty grassroots to the halls of power, as mothers, fathers, students, brothers, sisters, and community leaders.

We’re here because California is at a crossroads. Our state’s economic future depends on the brainpower of the rising generation — my generation.

Over the past two years, $17 billion has been cut from education in California. According to the California Budget Project, in 2009-2010 California’s K-12 per-pupil spending ranked 45th in the country. And we are last in students-per-teacher ratio.

I’m angry about it. I think we should move in a direction that strengthens the California Dream, not one that jeopardizes our economic future. An educated society is a better society.

So today we are presenting our ideas for “Education 2.0” and a new “OS (Our Schools) 2011 device.” Our device contains four “apps”: 1) Which Way CA? 2) Kids Count, 3) Teacher Ready, and 4) 100% Prepared.

Which Way CA? It’s time to decide whether our state will prioritize the requests of special interests or invest in our future by revamping our education finance system to reflect 21st century realities. Which way will California go? Are we going to continue with deeper budget cuts? Or will lawmakers have the courage to recognize that kids like me need them to raise more money so we can invest in education and in our future?

Kids Count: We need to upgrade California’s school finance system to one that distributes funding based on what it takes to prepare all students for both college and careers. That means moving to a system that funds schools adequately and also targets students who need the most help, such as English learners and low-income students.

I don’t want to be just another statistic we see on paper, or part of the 50% dropout rate everyone talks about. California is a place where I can write my own destiny, but no one succeeds alone. All I want is a chance to get the best so I can give my best.

Teacher Ready: My teacher, Ms. Aguilar, is an unsung hero. Every day she comes to class ready to challenge us to learn, and she inspires me to reach for my dreams. We know that thousands of teachers across the state have received layoff notices, but one thing is clear: teachers make a difference. We need to make sure that all our teachers are qualified when they start teaching, but once they’re in the classroom they need our support to be the best they can be. I have learned from Ms. Aguilar that the only limit to the height of my achievement is the reach of my dreams and the willingness to work for them.

100 Percent Prepared: I want to have practical skills I can use in real-world situations, but also an academic foundation that allows me to innovate and use my creativity. Being 100% prepared means I can reach higher because I am prepared for both college and career. Watering down high school requirements creates low expectations for students; instead, we want to be ready to pursue our dreams and be prepared for pursuing both college and a trade.

When I meet with my elected representatives today, I want to look them in the eye and tell them they need to invest in my future, the future of my classmates, and the future of students across California. We’re worth it.

Miriam Hernandez is a Junior at Roosevelt High School in Fresno and a student campaign chair with Californians for Justice (CFJ), which is part of the Campaign for Quality Education.