I want my son, Wilber, to pursue happiness in his life. He wants to be a doctor when he grows up, but more important than his becoming a doctor is that he have a choice. I know many of you are parents and you share my desire to protect our children from what is often a big, bad world. The truth is: the real world is hard. In my native El Salvador, there are limited options given to poor people. Good schools are mainly open to the wealthy, so it’s difficult for low-income families to climb out of poverty. I chose to leave El Salvador because I wanted more for my life. Stories like mine are so common for many Latinos in America. The chance to provide a good education for our children, we believe, is one of the most important reasons why we make the frightening choice to leave behind our families and everything we know in our countries to build better lives for them. I now work as a contractor in Denver, and my son is a seventh grader at Strive Prep Lake Middle School, a charter school. English is not his first language, so he had trouble with reading. His teachers at Strive have worked hard to help him get on track and do a good job of communicating to me about Wilber’s progress and how I, too, can be involved in his schooling. There’s a homework center at the school where he gets additional help. And Mi Casa, a group of local community centers, gives him extra support through their afterschool programs. Choices matter. I chose to organize other parents to empower themselves to play a greater role in their children’s education, to know how to pick the right schools for them, to engage with teachers so they don’t feel intimidated. But children shouldn’t feel intimidated, either. They should be able to face tough situations. I want my son to overcome these, even when I’m not there by his side. I know that in order for him to do so he will need a great and challenging education. He not only needs to be prepared to get into a good college, but for success in college so he can go on to medical school. Colorado has worked hard to improve education over the last several years and has rolled out the Colorado Academic Standards and new tests meant to measure how students are doing in reaching those expectations. I support these efforts. I’ve learned that Colorado’s old standards were outdated, and unfortunately, they weren’t preparing many students for classes in college or today’s workforce. Colorado’s new standards were implemented by teachers in 2013 and are focused on preparing all students for college or career. I support these standards for a number of reasons. First, I believe they are helping our kids build a foundation in critical thinking. They focus on helping students understand how to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom to skills in the real world. Finally, I like having a clear picture of what is expected of my son each year and being able to talk to his teacher about how I can help him at home; Strive Prep already does this so well. I know that standards alone are not going to ensure that Wilber gets a great education. There are many other factors that contribute to his success in school. One of those factors is a tool to know how my son is doing and if he is on track with his schoolwork. A good test that is able to pinpoint where students are excelling and where they may need more assistance is important. In addition to the peace of mind I have knowing if my son is on track, the results from these tests provide information about how schools and districts are doing across the state. This information is valuable to parents like me as they make choices about which school is right for their students. I was able to pick Strive Prep because this information was made available to me. For me, protecting my son means preparing him for success in the real world and arming him with everything he needs to achieve his dreams. I left El Salvador so my son could have the choices I didn’t have at his age. While I know our education system isn’t perfect and there is room for improvement, I feel more confident than ever that the education that Wilber is getting is preparing him to achieve his dreams. Please don’t undo that. For myself and other Latino parents, it’s why the sacrifices we have made have been worth it.
Oscar Zavala is a contractor living in Denver. He is a father of one and a parent organizer for Stand for Children Colorado.