Milwaukee Choice Program
I am the second in my family to graduate from high school, but I will be the first to go to college.
I started my education at a bilingual public school. Every subject was taught in Spanish. The only English I had was one ESL class. I was raised speaking only Spanish in the home and my parents thought placing me in a bilingual program would help me learn both languages, and adapt while not losing touch with my heritage. Being first generation, it’s easy to be thrown into monolingual or basic English and forget about where you come from.
Then I ended up missing a lot of school because of a brain disease that I was struggling with up until middle school. It was a very hard transition from elementary to middle school because of my condition. Then I went to a private school and it was very positive and a great learning environment. They had patience with me. Especially because I was struggling with my health, they tried to accommodate me.
I didn’t have to pay for my middle school education. I went to Notre Dame Middle School and I don’t know the exact number, but I’ve heard that it’s very expensive. It’s an all girls middle school and the choice program helped my family afford tuition because, as a low income family, we qualified for the voucher program. I also received free lunch.
When I was younger, my parents missed a lot of work because of nightly visits to the emergency room. Sometimes they lost their jobs because of my health condition. At some point, one of my parents had to stay with me and couldn’t work. The cycle of unemployment was tough economically. The ability to participate in a choice program was a blessing. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go to the school that made such a difference in my life.
My parents speak a lot about education to me. They grew up in Mexico and they had very different experiences but had similar outcomes. My dad grew up in a small rural area and he had to drop out of school around fourth grade because he needed to work. He never really had the opportunity for more education.
My mom went to the equivalent of high school and pursued a career in accounting. She attended a private school in Mexico. But at the time they weren’t hiring when she graduated and wouldn’t give her a job because she came from a poor family. Her education didn’t matter, it was because of her social status. For that reason, like my dad, she didn’t have opportunity and she had no outlet for pursuing an actual career. That’s why she’s so passionate about what education can do for someone in America, regardless of their family’s background.
I recently graduated from Cristo Rey high school. We were the founding class and were always told we had a responsibility for that reason. As time went by, we started realizing how much opportunity we were being afforded. We were receiving a really good education, and a Jesuit education. I am a religious person and the school offered us an education founded in religious morals.
“I am very fortunate because I had school choice. And I know not everyone has that and I don’t feel that they’re less deserving than me. I also don’t feel that I’m different than those who can pay for tuition. Just because I have a disadvantage at home, that doesn’t make me less deserving of a great school.”
At Cristo Rey we were also exposed to four years of professional work experience. And that’s unlike anything offered in Milwaukee or areas nearby. It was amazing and I wouldn’t have been able to get that experience anywhere else. The jobs were just as educational as our academic courses. I know I would not be the same person had I gone to school elsewhere. I will always be grateful to Cristo Rey for that reason.
In my first year, I started working at a hospital. You could stay at the same company but I chose to change each year. I loved the hospital but I wanted to be exposed to more. So from there, I went to Coakley Brothers and then to Sendik’s Home Offices in the payroll department. After that, in my senior year, I was at Dedicated Computing. I feel like I succeeded most at the hospital and I may want to return after I graduate from Marquette, where I will start this fall.
During our work experiences, there were some jobs I really disliked but I did well at them. And so while I might not go back to them, I appreciate learning what I dislike to do because I don’t want to go up the wrong career ladder and it also impacts what I choose to do in college. I learned what I enjoyed doing, including customer service and working with people.
I am very fortunate because I had school choice. And I know not everyone has that and I don’t feel that they’re less deserving than me. I also don’t feel that I’m different than those who can pay for tuition. Just because I have a disadvantage at home, that doesn’t make me less deserving of a great school. And I am forever grateful I did have the opportunity to attend great schools because I know not everyone has that same opportunity.