Gabriel Lopez is an alum of DePauw University (‘12) and City Year Chicago (‘13). He is currently the Assistant Site Director at Match Education.
I proudly served on the Comcast-NBCUniversal Team at the Marquette School of Excellence in the Chicago Lawn Community (yep, I still got the catch phrase). I was placed in a self-contained Spanish-speaking bilingual class of 6th graders. What that means is that my kids had all their subjects in one room, with one teacher, all day, and little ole me.
I taught content in all the standard subjects included in a primary education: reading, math, science, social studies, etc. In many cases I had to use my Spanish to translate material for students who had recently arrived to the country.
On more than one occasion my kids asked me things like, “So how do you know all this stuff?” “Was school hard for you because you speak Spanish?” “What was college like? No one in my family has been.” Those questions really hit home for me. It was the first time in my life that I realized I had become an adult that kids looked up to. I was an educator, male of color, who spoke Spanish, went to college, and knew all these things about life that they were just beginning to understand.
At the same time there were many things they taught me that I had never experienced before: divorced parents, moving out of the country several times, losing loved ones to gang violence among many other things. I quickly realized the heavy importance of my role in relation to my students. I had the responsibility of teaching them about the world around them, helping them see their own potential, and showing them how to conduct themselves in a way that shows respect for themselves and others.
Professionally, my experience helped me see the importance of a team dynamic. It helped me re-think how I conducted myself, talked to others, reflected on feedback, and then put it to use.
Talking to parents, planning Family Engagements Nights, running an afterschool program with my team all didn’t seem that big of a deal at the time. I look back on it now and realize I developed so many skills I use in my job now in another education non-profit.
My corps year taught me a lot about my capabilities and myself. After my corps year I knew that I was in the education game for the long haul. Not only for myself, but to help other young minds like my 6th graders see that yes, you can be brown and make it in the world. Yes, you can speak Spanish and train a room of 85 instructors. Yes, you can come from parents who didn’t go to college and pursue your master’s degree. You can do anything you want. Show them that you belong in this world. Show yourself what you’re made of. Others will see it too.