In 2008, several schools in Los Angeles were deemed “drop out factories.” As a freshman attending one of these schools, it was the first time I truly began to see my community through the lens of the outside world.
Despite this label, a dedicated group of teachers challenged us to look beyond our current classification and compete with schools outside of our community. In English class, we began to stray away from the basic curriculum and instead were guided in Socratic seminar discussions (a format I rediscovered in college). Our math teacher opened the school on Saturdays and provided us with space where we could tutor one another. He even provided donuts and milk.
Our teachers explained that this special attention was commonplace in schools outside of our community and that we were just as deserving as them; and therefore since we had been similarly prepared, we should be just as good as they were.
It was these teachers who not only taught but mentored us to look within ourselves to challenge the expectations placed on us. Seeing how the negative label motivated my teachers (many who are graduates of neighboring schools), I became inspired to help my community through service. Today, I serve as a City Year AmeriCorps member in my native Boyle Heights at Stevenson Middle School, the school I once attended.
I serve not only for the students whose view of their community is shaped by an outside narrative, but for the selfless educators whose daily struggle of motivating their students goes beyond what is expected of them. I am here because of all the selfless mentors/educators that challenged me to grow more than I thought I could while giving so much more than what was expected. Knowing that change starts from within, I try to model myself after these Big Citizens to continue to challenge growth within the schools in our community.
My name is Matthew Valenzuela and I am a product of selfless LAUSD educators at First Street Elementary School, Stevenson Middle School, and Roosevelt High School...and I proudly serve at my alma mater, Stevenson Middle School.