Using My Voice – From Parent To Board Member
Yolanda Bernal-Samano, Parent Leader and Rocketship National Board Member
My parents came from Mexico; they’re immigrants and they moved here for a better life. When they had us, they knew that education would open doors for my siblings and me, and so they always really pushed for college. I was born and raised in San Jose in the downtown community. While downtown San Jose is changing significantly, some of it for the better, gentrification is making it more difficult for people who are homegrown like us who slowly can’t afford to live here. We stay here because our family is here. We’re rooted, we have our extended family here. And I know that high quality public education can help keep people like us here. San Jose keeps calling me back.
After high school, I was one of two of my inner circle to attend San Jose State University, which made me feel very lost. I didn’t understand why; there were so many of us that graduated, but none of us were really reflected at San Jose State University, and so I knew at that point that there was something wrong. I don’t regret attending San Jose State because there I found programs like Aspire, a federally funded program that helps first-generation college students navigate through the first years of college. I became a peer advisor in my junior year where I was helping underclassmen choose their classes, making sure that they were not taking classes that wouldn’t help towards their major. It was a rewarding and challenging time all in one. I always felt a sense of pride when we completed semester registration because it brought us one semester closer to graduation. And it was challenging when the semesters didn’t go as planned and we had to make tough choices like changing majors or repeating courses. Early on I found my passion helping first generation college students and making sure they progressed toward their degree.
After graduating with my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to keep going, so I got my master’s degree in counselor education. My dream was to be a college counselor and work for programs that helped underrepresented students in higher education. And although I never pursued it after graduating, I find little ways to go back and talk to kids about college. I still have a lot of friends that work in that field, and I take advantage of all the college panels they offer. Opportunities like this are important in demystifying college. I feel strongly that too many schools are not preparing our students and empowering our students to believe that they can make it to college. They can make it to college.. And they can conquer college, they can graduate from college. A lot of the time kids get to college and they don’t know what to do. They get lost and they immediately think, “College is not for me.” And that’s not true. You have to find the resources. And if I can be a resource, or my whole community of college counselors can be a resource, that is so fulfilling to me because I know that when my kids go to college, they’ll be looking for that.
I knew that when it was time to find a school for my sons, that I would look for a school that would prepare them. That would make them feel powerful going into their college journey. When we started looking for schools, we started looking at data and getting informed. We knew there was a different option. When we started touring schools, one was Rocketship Fuerza. It was kind of amazing just to see the whole college mindset was already ingrained with them as little as kinder. That was something we knew we wanted, that our kids were exposed to college, that they knew that it was something that was an option for them from day one, from their very basic educational endeavors.
Rocketship has really focused on the achievement gap. I remember sitting in one of our kinder orientations, my husband and I, and them really saying, “There’s a problem – there is an achievement gap. At Rocketship Public Schools, along with your student and yourself, we’ll work together to close that achievement gap, not only for your children, but for the children in our community.” So we loved that about Rocketship, because I can’t emphasize enough that you work so hard to get to the first-generation college, to graduate, to make your parents proud. And then to see that my kids could have that challenge all over again if I sent them to a school that didn’t prepare them. It’s really infuriating. It really is. And so that’s why I do what I do. That’s why I’m so passionate about it, because it’s not fair to them and to our community and those that are coming here for a better life.
I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of new and seasoned parents through Rocketship, including at my own Rocketship Fuerza. I’ve also been able to see other parents at different Rocketship schools grow in their power from not only advocating to just the principal, but also being empowered, finding their voice to talk to public officials about issues that are important in their wider community. So I’ve seen, and I’ve personally learned to grow myself and my voice. I found my passion, advocating for our communities, which are underserved and sometimes forgotten. But I feel very strongly that Rocketship Public Schools and the amazing organizers have fostered power within me to share that with other parents that are coming in and starting to enroll in Rocketship schools. If I’m not speaking for my kids in my community, then who will? And so that has really just fueled the fire in me.
That’s why I serve on the Rocketship board today as a part of the CA Board Committee. My two little ones are super proud of me. I can see their advocacy shine through with their actions in our community. I’m lucky to have a supportive husband that cheers me on from the sidelines and helps me refocus when there are tough days. My parents are also really proud that I continue to use my voice- they always say I always had an opinion growing up. They are just happy I’m using my voice to make a change for the next generation. One of the most important things that I love to do is to talk to other parents and share that they too are powerful. They too have a drive within them. They can voice that. With help from Rocketship schools, I know that my community will continue to thrive for generations to come.
Published on December 22, 2023