Friday, November 21, 2014

Why I joined BVP

by Stephanie Gonzalez

I became an advocate for high expectations the second I stepped foot on a college campus.

My four years at Boston College were undoubtedly four of the most difficult years of my life. I was burdened financially.  At 17, I was navigating the all too dismaying financial aid office.   I begged semester after semester to be allowed to stay.  No young adult should ever have to do that. Though finances impacted my college experience greatly,  my most difficult moments were academic in nature.  It was evident through conversation and social interactions with my peers and professors that I had received a less than equitable K-12 education. I made a conscious decision after college to come back to Central Falls to advocate for raising expectations and rigorous college preparation so that college completion stories like mine become the rule and not the exception.

I was reminded of my experience last week when I attended a rally in Boston’s Faneuil Hall with BVP’s Executive Director (@chiachess) and Director of External Affairs (@jenlopiccolo) organized by Families for Excellent Schools and charter schools that provide education to Massachusetts’ families. We were surrounded by a sea of approximately 2,000 blue t-shirts worn proudly by scholars, teachers, and families. The shirts displayed a short, numerical, twitter-friendly message, #77000reasons.  That is, 77,000 children in MA  attending schools that are not preparing students for success. In other words, 77,000 children are en route to have a similar experience to mine.  Even worse, many are not en route to experience college at all. 

Attending the rally was one of my first assignments as a new member of the team.  I was there to observe and take note of one of the many ways in which advocating for great schools can be manifested. You see,  I joined the BVP Team as an Advocacy and Outreach Associate, a role that gives me the privilege to help empower families across the network to define, embody, and execute advocacy for school choice and high expectations.

My decision to take on this challenge  is inspired by many things: 
  • BVP’s intentional diversity created by enrolling students from four Rhode Island communities (my home of Central Falls included)
  • BVP’s unwavering commitment to high expectations
  • My personal narrative as a Central Falls High School alum

At the rally, every single mom and dad (yes, great schools are dads’ business too) who shared their story was inspiring.  I was particularly moved by a mother whose children attend one of the charter schools represented at the rally.   She reflected on her own education, being the first in her family to attend college, and her struggle to compete with her peers once she got there. Her story was very much reflective of my own: Latina, first-generation college student, and unprepared for the rigor of college. That is my story.  That is the story of many.

But I am hopeful and inspired by what I see when I walk through the halls of BVP schools. I’ve spent my first few days touring the schools, attending events, and introducing myself to staff at morning huddles.  I was moved by the morning huddle at the middle school earlier this week.  The Head of School, Joy Souza, acknowledged that it would be a long and somewhat crazy day, and she spent a few minutes expressing how much she appreciates her staff. Like me, Ms. Souza is a huge fan of Kid President and ended her huddle with one of his pep talks, For the Heroes.   That’s what great teachers are. Heroes. 

Today is my 10th day and every single day has only affirmed my excitement to be  part of this team.  I  look forward to building a community with families across our network that let’s the world know that we want high expectations, that we need everyone to get this done, that every single child matters, and that they cannot wait

Stephanie was born and raised in Central Falls, RI. She graduated from Central Falls High School in 2004 and became the first member of her family to attend college, graduating in 2008 with a BA in English from Boston College. Since her return to Central Falls, she has dedicated much of her time advocating for quality education for Central Falls families, taking any chance to promote college attendance and completion. She is a member of the Central Falls School Board of Trustees, Nowell Leadership Academy Board of Directors, YWCA Board of Directors, and Central Falls City Council.  She enjoys running, reading, and spending time with family.

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