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Voices from Inside the Classroom: Teaching with Heart

Jose Lara: Tell me about hope, love and commitment we have to have to educate EVERY student who walks through our doors.

We often talk about education reform policies without taking into consideration the real lives of some of our most troubled youth. I wanted to share one student’s story to remind us all that we teach real life children and they have real life feelings, troubles and hardships. This is a story of teaching and learning in the inner city and the effects of a broken immigration policy and education reform polices that forget the human element of our students. Here is what happened during one Saturday detention:

immigrant School Children

I had a student in Saturday detention today. As he worked doing his community service we had a long heart-to-heart conversation. His mother left him and his older brother and younger sister when he was 7 years old in El Salvador to come to the United States. There he stayed with his 70-year-old grandmother and watched his older brother give away to the gang life out in the streets. When his older brother was arrested for murder in El Salvador, the violence got too crazy for the family. They had to begin to pay “protection” money to the local gang his brother once belonged too. They couldn’t afford it. So my student and an uncle began to make the trek to the United States. It cost him $9,000 for a “guide” to bring him to the US. He was 13 years old.

His voyage began in the back of a semi truck trailer starting from El Salvador all the way to Mexico City where they switched trucks. Mexican soldiers stopped him once and demanded a bribe or else they would send him back home. After a nervous negotiation, they finally got off with 200 pesos. Their trip continued.

He said the hardest part of the trip was not knowing if they were really taking you where they said they would. He was only 13 and everyone was much older than he was. It was dark, hot and then cold in the back of the truck. They were given no food on the trip.

Once they got to the U.S./Mexico border they were told to walk 12 hours as soon as it got dark across the desert and to make sure no one saw them. They would meet their ride for the final leg of the trip the next morning.

They got lost. My student thought he was going to die as he spent the next five days lost in the desert.

However, they got lost. My student thought he was going to die as he spent the next five days lost in the desert. The food they brought ran out after the first day and they also ran out of water. He said they found a small pool of water on the third day and didn’t care if it was dirty or not. They crouched down like animals to drink as much as possible. The heat was unbearable.

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He said the bug bites were the worst. At night, they would take off their shirts to place over soft sand they found to sleep on. They were super hungry. Both the heat of the sun and hot air left them with an unbearable thirst he will never forget. By the fifth day they were ready to turn themselves in the Border Patrol when they finally found there way again.

The last part of the trip was easy. It was a van ride to Los Angeles where he finally met his mother who abandoned him when he was so young. He missed his grandmother dearly. It was time to build a new relationship with a mother has only known through phone calls.

A few months later his grandmother passed away. He wasn’t even able to go to the funeral. He gave me a cold and lonely look. I could see the pain in his eyes.

With no one left to take care of his younger sister, she began the trip to the United States next. However, she was spared the travels through the desert as she turned herself in at the border with a letter and a death certificate of her grandmother. She was detained for two weeks and finally released. They make their lives now in South Central Los Angeles where they go to school.

So please don’t tell me about test scores or Common Core. Don’t tell me about “high preforming” charter schools whose lottery system never seems to chose students like mine.

Tell me about the resources and support we are going to give educators to help and change the lives of students like this one. Tell me about hope, love and commitment we have to have to educate EVERY student who walks through our doors. Tell me when we are going to provide our students with the resources for schools that they deserve. Tell me when we can begin the healing, so we can begin the learning.


Jose Lara