When I think about how high-quality charter schools in Washington state can make a difference for students, I think about a young friend, Macy Olivas, who graduated from Whitworth University in Spokane this May with a degree in sociology. Macy is the first in her family to go to college.
She attended the Preuss Charter School in San Diego and is passionate about how her charter school experience can help other students. I asked her to share with me on this blog about her experience attending a charter school.
Why did you decide to attend a charter school?
When my parents emigrated from Mexico in the 80s, they came with the vision of my brothers and me attending college. They both got jobs at a university in hopes of qualifying for tuition remission when we grew older. I remember my dad telling me that if I tried hard, I could one day call a college campus my home.
In elementary school, I struggled early on with reading and writing. I can still remember the day I realized I was part of what students dubbed “the dumb” reading group.
When I was going into fifth grade, my family decided to submit an application to The Preuss School at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). I was already two grade levels behind my peers in math, and as much as my parents tried to support me academically, they too were trying to get a grasp on English.
At a grocery store, my mom stopped a woman whose son was wearing a Preuss uniform shirt. For 20 minutes, she and my mom spoke about the school and its academic rigor.
What did you think about your educational experience at Preuss?
My educational experience at Preuss helped provide me with tools to navigate the college admission process, and instilled in me the belief that I could do it. Preuss is dedicated to helping low-income students become the first generation in their family to go to college.
All students are automatically placed in honors classes, and Advance Placement classes are required once you hit 10th grade. For once, I was challenged at the same level as my peers and did not feel singled out for learning at a different pace. Getting through Preuss was tough, and I struggled tremendously, but never felt like I was in it alone.
Despite the challenges, my teachers never stopped rooting for me. When I wanted to give up and convince myself that college was not for me, they cheered louder. It was at Preuss that I was pushed to not only become a better student, but learned that I truly had the potential of attending college. In May, I became the first in my family to graduate from a 4-year university. I firmly believe this would not be possible without the educational opportunity I had at Preuss.
When I grow up, I want to work for Macy. I am pretty sure she will be president of the United States one day.
At the Gates Foundation, our goal is to expand options for students who are too often closed out of high-performing schools, and Macy’s story gives me hope for students like her in Washington state.