Everyone’s story starts somewhere. Mine started in the Dominican Republic when I was born to a teacher and an accountant. They had stars in their eyes when they envisioned my future. Looking around the small island during an economic depression amongst its beautiful palm trees, they knew that the future they envisioned would not be possible there.
With four small children, they took all they had and moved to the United States. Soon, our family became smaller, as my parents separated.
My mother was left to raise us all, which forced her to work long hours just to put food on the table. As the years passed, we grew and moved forward but my mother stayed stuck. Unable to pick up English fluently, she was never able to renew her license to teach. Even so, my mother made sure we always pushed ourselves in school. Education was our key to success, and knowing that fact would be the difference between us reaching our goals and having to settle as she did.
Thus, I have always tried to push myself in my studies. In high school, I have come to the realization that I couldn’t have succeeded without the support of my teachers.
When you grow up as a Hispanic woman with a single parent, the world is bound to view you in a certain way that is all too often not positive, regardless of how you see yourself.
My teachers at Boston Collegiate Charter School became my shield to the rest of the world. They let me know about opportunities I could take advantage of, helped me with my schoolwork and — most importantly — made sure I knew my worth.
They weren’t willing to give up on me, even when I wanted to give up on myself, and I gained a deep respect for them because of that. When looking for an internship through the school’s Junior Internship Program, I expressed this to my teacher and she connected me with Teach For America (TFA).
This past January, I had the honor of interning with TFA for two weeks. Going in, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted. I just knew I was passionate about education and the work my teachers did to make school more inclusive. That alone was a good starting point. As a non-profit, TFA works to send teachers to the kids who most need them, with the hope that some day every child will have access to a great education.
To gain insight into what we wanted, my friend Kanilla — who was also interning there — and I were assigned to write our own stories about what drove us to TFA. We then wrote letters to current and incoming teachers, and made a recruitment video explaining what TFA was and why people should get involved with it. Every day we’d come in around 9 a.m. and meet with some staff members, getting to hear their stories and what drives them.
Some days, we got to attend meetings with a coach and the executive director. During the meetings, we talked with principals about their goals for their schools and how they plan to achieve those goals, both inside and outside the classroom.
The principal of one school talked about how he really wanted students to shape the school’s atmosphere. The students could vote on topics such as uniforms after a debate. It is examples like these that excite me for the future, making students know that they have some control over the world around them.
At first glance, these tasks may not seem that significant, but they actually required an immense amount of self-reflection. I really had to dig down deep and figure out what drove me. It was as if I had to learn who I was all over again and, as a result, I found a newborn passion and an idea of how I was going to pursue it. I learned that I love giving every child an opportunity to receive a great education, and that I get frustrated knowing the world we live in isn’t yet like that.
I am one of the lucky ones who happened to get into a great school, but what about those who aren’t so lucky? Children can’t continue to be forgotten — that is my mission.
I may only be a high-school junior, but the big question of college is always looming. I still don’t know exactly where I want to go or even what I want to study. However, I know that I definitely want to stay close to home and, though I hadn’t ever considered it before my internship, I feel that starting my career as a teacher is a possibility.
My end goal is clear: I want to get a job where I can help students in my community have access to a quality education. That vision consists of those students having great resources, teachers and facilities.
How am I going to get there? That’s the real question, and, at 17, I certainly don’t have the answer. But, my TFA internship gave me plenty of food for thought and I am excited knowing that, somehow, I am going to make a difference.
Born in the Dominican Republic and now a U.S. citizen, 17-year-old Esther Fernandez is a junior at Boston Collegiate Charter School.