I grew up in East San Jose, where I attended our local traditional public schools. In elementary school, I received many awards for my academic achievements, but once I began my middle school journey, everything changed. My interest and focus went from doing well in school to worrying about being accepted by my peers. Neither middle school or high school motivated me to think about higher education. I only tried to fit in. I didn’t want my “friends” to think I was a nerd by continuing to get good grades, so I didn’t try hard, but I knew that I couldn’t flunk a class because my dad would be very upset. So instead, [pullquote position="left"]I settled for C’s. There is one incident with a science teacher that I will never forget. During my freshman year, one of the school clubs organized a field trip to a local community college. I wanted to go on the field trip moreso to get out of school than to learn about college, but nonetheless, I went to each of my classes to get my permission slip signed.
My science teacher looked at the permission slip and told me, “Why do you want to go? It’s not like you will be going to college.” I remember that I was shocked by his comment, and I didn’t know how to react. The science teacher did not sign my permission slip, and I was not able to attend the field trip. I didn’t tell my parents or anyone about the incident. I felt that my parents wouldn’t understand or that they wouldn’t know what to do, since they trusted that the school was providing the best education for me at the time. But looking back, I realize that I was in my freshman year, and I still had the chance, if given the opportunity or if someone would have reassured me, that it was possible to turn things around and strive to do my best to get into a four-year college.
Words Stuck With Me, But I Overcame
My teacher discouraged me and that made me mad, but I didn’t know at the time how to react to it. I did not try my best in high school, but I did take business and accounting courses, which helped me to seek my career path. I attended Heald Business College after high school and received my associate’s degree. At Heald, I met two friends who'd had similar school experiences in high school, and we ended working together at a high-tech company in the accounting department. Soon after, we knew that we needed a bachelor’s degree if we wanted to continue moving up in that field, so we enrolled together at University of Phoenix. It was a fast-paced program for working adults and we graduated together with our bachelor’s degree in accounting from University of Phoenix, while working full-time, raising our children full-time and attending school full-time. We motivated each other and supported each other through college. It made me realize that what we needed in our K-12 schools was an opportunity to think about higher education at a young age and support the goal of getting into college during our adolescent years, when so many young people can easily fall behind, just like I did. We need our schools to provide high-quality education with high expectations so that our youth can be successful. Our youth need school leaders who believe in them, support them to ensure that they are reaching their full potential. Every child has the potential to succeed academically, they just need educators and other adults in their lives to believe in them, to encourage them and to support them every step of the way. My K-12 education experience could have been different if I had school leaders and teachers who believed in me. Our public schools should encourage us
all to do our best and motivate us all to attend higher education.
Lety Gomez was born and raised in East San Jose. She is married with three children. She graduated from University of Phoenix with a bachelor’s degree in Business/Accounting. When she was a teenager, Fr. Mateo Sheedy was the pastor of her parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus. She fondly remembers his passion for social justice, especially justice for the immigrant community in San Jose and ensuring that ...