Every time I talk with my mom about what I want to be when I grow up, she cries. Not out of fear or sadness, but because she is proud of me. She is proud that I get to go to an amazing, top-tier college—Cal Poly Pomona—next fall. She is proud that I am the first person in my family to go on to higher education. And she is proud that I will have every door open to me to pursue the career of my dreams.
But most of all, she is proud that I want to become a literacy teacher at Rocketship Sí Se Puede Elementary. Because Rocketship Sí Se Puede changed the course of my life, and gave me the opportunity and hope to pursue my dreams. Rocketship also gave me the skills and inspiration to one day come back and help kids like me in my community.
My mom has seven children. I’m number six, with five older brothers and a younger sister. My older brothers struggled in school, causing my family to move around a lot. In third grade, after yet another move, I found myself in a new school in San Jose, struggling with reading. I couldn’t read well enough to do my homework. So instead of helping me, my teacher pulled me up in front of the entire class and asked me why I didn’t do my homework. Completely embarrassed, I burst into tears.
When I told my parents, they went looking for another school for me that I could attend without our family moving again. That’s when my mom heard about Rocketship Sí Se Puede, a new school not too far from my house. My mom told me, “This could be a good chance for you to improve.” Little did either of us know how right she would be!
Rocketship was very different from my old school from day one. My very first day of school included a meeting with my mom and the principal. She and the rest of the school staff made me feel so welcome. I even had a "study buddy" who helped me understand the school and answer all my questions. Very quickly, I fell in love with school.
It was also a tough year in many ways. I found out early on that in third grade, I was reading at a first-grade level. I had no idea I was this far behind. When my teacher told me and my parents, we all broke down. How could the other school let me get so far behind? I also struggled in math because I had no confidence in my abilities and had trouble understanding the material.
But with the support of my peers, teachers and one-on-one tutoring, I got better. I am especially grateful to my math teacher. Instead of letting me give into frustration she would have me say out loud "you’re smart, you can do it" and push through each problem with her help. Day-by-day, she built up my confidence, and with it, I became a great reader and mathematician.
These skills and confidence propelled me through middle and high school at Alpha Public Schools in San Jose, and into getting accepted by a number of great colleges, where I will study to become a first or second grade literacy teacher. I want to do this because struggling to read is one of the hardest things a student can go through. I know that I felt powerless—unable to access the information everyone around me could. I never, ever want another kid to feel the struggle that I felt. So I’m going to try to become as great and dedicated a teacher as my Sí Se Puede teachers were for me.
So thank you, Rocketship Sí Se Puede, for believing in me. For not giving up on me, for helping me find joy in learning, and for putting me on this path to success. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come back to my San Jose neighborhood and help other kids who look like me learn to read.
When I throw my graduation cap in the air later this month—and when I do it again four years from now at Cal Poly—I’m not just celebrating my achievements I’m celebrating the hard work each of you put into helping me reach my dreams.
Daniella Martinez is a senior at Alpha: Cindy Avitia High School in San Jose, California. The first in her family to go to college, Daniella will attend Cal Poly Pomona next year, majoring in liberal studies within the College of Education. Daniella grew up in San Jose with five older ...