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A Dream Realized: From Undocumented to Graduate to Teacher, What I Learned at Rocketship Discovery Prep

I never thought I’d get here. I never thought I’d be legally allowed to stay in this country, be a college graduate, or be a teacher. Coming originally from Tijuana, Mexico, when I was one year old, my family immigrated to San Jose.  We scraped by those first few years. We crammed eight people into a two bedroom apartment. My father was always working, trying to keep food on the table and saving up so we could move into our own home. When I turned five, my dad bought our first house.

I started school that same year. I went to a nearby school in the neighborhood. It was great and I got good grades. But everything changed when I got to middle school. My parents were no longer able to help me with my homework but they still expected me to earn straight A’s. My dad would tell me “You only have one job. Your job is to go to school and get good grades. My job is to work to give you food and shelter so you can bring those excellent grades home.” I was so scared to disappoint my family. I did not know how to study, so I memorized everything by writing it down on a paper. I would read what I wrote to myself and I would go to sleep repeating what I had written from my books. My grades improved but I’m not sure I really learned much in middle school. In high school, things got a little better. I did well in math and science, but I hated English. I understand the pain that many of my students have when they are not able to write or say something grammatically correct in English.

Then when it came time to apply for college my world turned upside down. I was told by a counselor I might not be able to afford college because I was undocumented. Being undocumented never seemed to affect me until application forms staring asking for my social security number. When I asked my mom for my social security number she said “ Mija tu no tienes seguro por que tu no tienes papeles” (You do not have a social because you do not have legal documentation). I was shattered. My counselor did some research and learned that under CA law AB-540 I was eligible to attend a UC school and pay in-state resident tuition. I got accepted to San Jose State and couldn’t wait to enroll. But even in-state tuition at San Jose State was too expensive. I went to community college instead. I finished all my courses and earned some scholarships along the way. I then worked an entire year at a restaurant to save enough money to pay for my first semester at San Jose State.  With a little help from my parents, I managed to pay for every semester at San Jose State in cash.

When President Obama passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) I was able to apply for a work permit and remain legally in the United States. I searched for an opportunity to support kids like me from my neighborhood. I heard good things about Rocketship Discovery Prep so I emailed to see if they had any openings. I was hired as a support staff. I loved the school community at Discovery Prep and I was inspired to pursue a career in education. The following year, I became an ECC and started substitute teaching. My coach, Principal Kaur, was always at my side as I learned the ropes of effective instruction. We would rehearse my lessons together, she was constantly in my class modeling, and always provided actionable feedback after a classroom observation. I grew a lot that year.  By the end of the year, I was offered a position to teach first grade literacy.

As I now near the end of my first full year as a teacher I know I still have a lot to learn but I also know that even in just one year I’ve come so far. I’ve struggled with my teaching at times this year, but I am no stranger to struggles. It’s in these struggles that I’ve felt the true power of Rocketship. I am not the first nor will I be the last Rocketship teacher from the neighborhood. Rocketship schools are built upon and around community, and everything we do reflects that. Our network staff and school leaders are extremely thoughtful in picking culturally-relevant units – from the books our kids read to the field trips they take. Our schools are named by and for our parents, reflecting the vision and values of each particular community. It is this embodiment of community support that launches our Rocketeers each and every day.

We are committed to help every Rocketeer grow – every student, every teacher, and every parent in our community. Not only do I get intensive professional development before and during the school year, but I get real support. Support from my principal, my assistant principals, my fellow teachers, and my Rocketeers’ parents. I got encouragement when I was a support staff that I could be a teacher if I worked to get there. Few people have believed in me and given me the tools to make my dreams come true like I’ve seen at Rocketship Discovery Prep. I know there is no better place for me to grow and develop as an educator and make an impact in my community than right here at RDP!

Angelica Del Rio is a First Grade Literacy Teacher at Rocketship Discovery Prep in San Jose, California.

Published on May 22, 2017