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Lilianna Salcedo, a 10th-grader at USC Hybrid High School in Los Angeles.
Lilianna Salcedo, a 10th-grader at USC Hybrid High School in Los Angeles. Credit: Magdalena Slapik for The Hechinger Report

How would you describe your school?

I’m in 10th grade. Prior to here I was in Riverside County, at Amelia Earhart Middle School. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I spent four years in Riverside, and the whole time, from fifth to eighth grade, I wasn’t comfortable with who I was. Over there there’s a lot of Caucasian people, a lot of people that aren’t really like me. A lot of people were from higher income statuses. I wasn’t proud of being Hispanic. I really tried to hide it. There was a lot of ignorance there.  The mindsets were really negative towards people like me. So, I wished that I had a lighter complexion. I wished that my name wasn’t the name that it was. I know how to speak Spanish, but I didn’t want anyone to know that. I just wanted to be like everyone else. There were other Latinos and other minorities there, but they also rejected their own culture. So, it was kind of the norm for me to do. It was just horrible. I wished I was someone else.

When I came over here, I started being more proud of my culture. It’s easier to relate when there’s a lot of people like you. At the same time, it’s also dope when there’s diversity. I guess it just needs to be equally balanced. When you’re a teenager you feel like an outsider already, even in just the slightest way. Here, I don’t really feel like an outsider. I feel a lot more comfortable. When you have that sense where people care for you and for your success, it’s better. I feel safe and nurtured. I think it’s unique because a lot of us come from low-income families, and a lot of us are minorities, too.

Tell me a little bit about the personalized curriculum at your school.

In Riverside, in the classrooms, it was all, like, sit at a desk and just work on an English paper or stuff like that. But, over here, we use a Chromebook, and the classrooms, if you prefer to stand up when you work, a lot of classrooms have high tables with no chairs. If you wanna sit down in a bean bag, you can sit down in a bean bag and work.  We can talk in the classrooms, but, you know, not get too loud. If you just wanna listen to music and you’re a person that focuses by yourself, then you could do that, too. It tailors to every style of learning. Whatever you feel like doing, and however you learn best, they give you those outlets. Basically, the day is in our control.

What part does testing play in your school curriculum?

Our whole school basically revolves around the ACT. We live and breathe it. All our courses are designed to help us on the ACT. Every quarter, at the end of the quarter, we take the ACT. By the time you take it as a junior, you’ll have taken the ACT 12 times already. At the end of ninth grade, I got a 26, the highest for ninth grade.

What is one thing your school could do better?

ACT practice is good, but since we’re so ACT oriented, we don’t really have electives. The only foreign language class that you could take is Spanish, and the only visual and performing arts that you could do is dance. I wish we had more creative options.

What role do you think school and teachers should play in students’ lives?

I think the role of teachers and education in general is to help us progress as a society. Not only in our smarts or technology, but to help us progress as a human race: preparing us to tackle the issues that they couldn’t defeat.

What do you plan to do after you graduate from high school?

I really want to go to a four-year university. I want to try and go to an Ivy League school. One of my dream schools is UC Berkeley. I really want to go there. My family, they all attended college for just a little bit but then work came, and they weren’t able to graduate. So, I really want to do that. I don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up. But, I just know that I want to be, this kind of sounds mean, but I want to be better than what my mom was able to give us. I know that she tried her hardest and stuff like that, but it’s like, there was a lot of struggling.

Lilianna Salcedo was interviewed on 11/2/16. Student interviews were carried out during the 2015-2016, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. Posted grade levels are the grade the students were in when they were interviewed.  

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