My experience with inequity in schools

Access to High-Quality Schools | 10/02/2020

Johanna Mateo
National Communications Coordinator

I was born in New York but grew up in Honduras, a country sitting at the heart of Central America, where I attended school until the 8th grade. From a very young age, I witnessed the extreme disparities in access to education that you grow to witness on a daily basis when you grow up in a developing country where 13.5% of school-aged children have no access to education. It was an inequality that even as a young child you could not escape.

Early on, I understood that the stories my dad shared with me about having to drop out from fourth grade to work were not tales of the past. It was the same reality forced on children my age who I passed on my way to school while they worked as bus assistants, street vendors, and window cleaners. They didn’t have the opportunity to learn how to read, math, science, or know the joy of recess.

The summer before 8th grade when I moved to the Chelsea, Massachusetts to continue to my education. I was in awe of my middle school’s building. It was huge! And, my family didn’t have to worry about paying an outrageous tuition for me to attend. While I witnessed extreme inequity and disparities in Honduras, I had grown to believe the tale that these didn’t exist in the United States. In comparison to Honduras, it was hard to catch the inequities in my schools in Chelsea. As time passed, I began to recognize that though they didn’t manifest themselves in the same way inequities were still present.

I began to recognize them in the way teachers and staff spoke of my classmates and our school. We were a “bad” school with a high drop-out rate, poor testing results, high teacher turnaround, and very few of our students attended college or were positioned on career pathways. Even then, I connected the dots between the reality of my peers and the “resources” our school offered us. At my high school, we had more security guards than we did nurses and counselors. The solution to discipline or small disruptions in classes were always escalated to removal from class by security guards. It was the story of young Latino and Black students being criminalized and humiliated by school authorities for minimal discipline offenses.

 Ten years after I graduated from high school I am at Stand for Children because I recognize the negative effect these inequities had on many of my classmates’ education journey. Back then, our parents couldn’t advocate for us. Most of them worked two jobs and being a majority immigrant community, they simply didn’t have the resources or know-how to communicate with our school leaders. I don’t want this to be the case for parents and students today. I want to help parents get the resources they need to advocate for the high-quality education and welcoming learning environment their students need to succeed.

Honor Hispanic Heritage Month by joining in Stand’s fight for equity and social justice. Our collective action today will impact stories like mine in the future.



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