Scenes from Schools: SIATech San Diego

June 23, 2011

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"Scenes from Schools" is an occasional piece on the CCSA News Blog that offers a glimpse at the tremendous work taking place on charter school campuses across California. Today's "Scenes" is a first-person piece from Adriana Madrigal Meneses, a SIATech San Diego graduate who shares her story of transformation at SIATech.

Stories from successes like David Beckham, who was a high school dropout at 16 yet managed to played his first professional game when he was 18, or Sir John Major, who was a high school dropout at 16 yet went on to become a British Conservative politician and later Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, help us believe that a transformation from a high school dropout to a success is possible.

These celebrities not only went back to school and graduated, but continued on to pursue a college career. Even the most brilliant entrepreneur could have made a wrong decision when it came to their education. However, the important decision of transformation was made.

The same opportunity for a success story is given to any high school dropout who is willing to make his or her way to for a brighter future. In order to redirect one's path, it is necessary to become aware and acknowledge in what direction we are heading and then head a different way.

A second opportunity to get back on track and finish up was given to me by SIATech Charter School and San Diego Job Corps Center. Competent teachers and caring staff assisted me in my very own individual high school study program. They helped me accomplish my life and educational transformation, and this made my entire life take a different direction.

I dropped out of school when I was a freshman in high school. I recall being scared and intimidated by the school curriculum. For some reason the expectations for students seemed a lot higher and too difficult for me to achieve. I was used to having one classroom and one teacher every school year. This structure facilitated my good grades all the way up until 8th grade; I feel it was due to fewer distractions and more individual attention given by the teachers. Once in high school and entering the into a new school structure with a different teacher for every subject really made me feel out of my comfort zone and really distracted me. My assignments were never completed by the due date, and every time the bell rang I was late. Soon they were sending home notes for my parents to read regarding my low grades and excessive tardiness. My parents could not understand what the problem was and instead of seeking for answers and obtaining the appropriate help, they accused me of being lazy and irresponsible.

At the beginning I made an effort to climb out of this awful situation with school and my parents. I made every effort to obtain better grades and positive school notes, but I just couldn't understand and retain much of the lessons' information. I recall asking a teacher for a one-on-one session and she suggested after school tutoring. Math tutoring was not the answer for my problems as I still could not completely comprehend and solve all the problems by myself. I was falling too behind and was not able to catch up with the rest of the class.

It seemed like projects and homework sheets were piling up for me, and tests' 50% scores were not adding up to a passing grade. My father's resolution for all of this was for me to become responsible and accountable. In his eyes I was just not trying enough. Finally I became rebellious to everything and everyone, my parents and the school system. I ran away from home countless times and problems in school continue to progress. I was discouraged and had a bad attitude. As a teenager, it's so easy to become discourage by even the minimum failure. I needed major courage, motivation, and inspiration in order to regain my academic confidence.

After a school administrator reviewed my academic progress notes, my mother was called into the principals' office who suggested I might be presenting symptoms of dyslexia. She recommended a school with smaller classes and self-paced achievement would perhaps work better for me, so she referred me to San Diego job corps. She stated it had a high school educational program that would help me get a high school diploma and empower me to become responsible and eventually a contributing member of society. My parents talk about the different trades and high school program they offer at the Job Corps center. They offer to take me to a center tour so I could make further enrollment arrangements. Students will typically be matched with a center located close to their hometown, and in my case, it was the San Diego center.

The time came for me to make a decision, one that would change my existence and transform me from the inside out. One thing was obvious to me I needed better education that would lead me to success and a better quality of life. During the tour they explained the benefits offered, In addition to the training and high school program, free housing, meals, basic health care, and a living allowance twice a month - all at no cost. It looked like a clean and safe, drug-free environment. So I decided to enroll and take advantage of the resources provided by this program. Guided by my intuition I began to ask all my friends to join me in this new journey, but there was only one out of the crowd who decided to take such step with me, her name was Brenda. Brenda and I did not have much to our name so we began selling homemade articles and chocolate candy door by door in our neighborhood in order to raise money. The days went by and I was excited to have a second opportunity for a fresh start.

Finally the day came to enter the center. It was as if I suddenly played a different role in my life, and my thinking just seemed to aim to a different direction and with different priorities. Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? To live in the city of San Diego was the dream of my life, the totally opposite of the desert where I had lived all my life. The dorms were decent and clean, and the cafeteria always smelled really good.

The staff was very nice, considerate, and polite. It seemed as if everyone was a counselor and their mission to make you stay and accomplish your goal. They always talked about a brighter and better future. Motivation was everywhere and slowly but surely I began to gain the academic confidence I once had, by learning to meet and accomplishing goals and deadlines. This was a very effective tool, that promoted prioritizing and motivation, bringing down thoughts of failure and making the unreachable possible. Setting realistic goals for each and every student was particularly encouraged by the high school staff; they had goals and deadlines written down in a binder for every student according to their academic and trade level. It was review biweekly, in order to catch any academic downfall a student might have. In order to overcome an area of difficulty a teacher would work with you individually and attentively until all requirements were achieve in such subject.

For some reason it seemed like they understood everyone's different personal level and manage to work with each and every students individual work phase. Overtime we got to be familiar with each other and it felt to me like a second family. This was a family that believed and encouraged me to overcome many past failures, whether they were academic or personal. At the time my main focus was to obtain my high school diploma, to proof my parents and family I was not going to be what they had already level me to be the rest of my life (an insignificant person without a future). I attended every class period, and asked every question I had. At times I had major problems understanding the lessons taught. Sometimes other students would make comments of how dumb my questions could be, but I learn to overcome the fear of being rejected, scare or made fun of. I continue to move forward in every area and subject. The staff was always willing to give me the individual attention I needed.

One day while having lunch in the cafeteria, I was chatting with my friend Brenda and I was telling her about the hard time I had passing my math final exam. A guy offered to help me with a math practice test. That day I met the love of my life (Frankie) who offered to help me as he was good in math. He also offered to tutor me after school hours if I needed any additional help. That day we became high school sweethearts and wrote love letters to each other instead. He encouraged me every time I failed a test and reminded me of how important my education was to have a better future.

A year past by and I completed all my requirements for both trade and high school graduation. Finally there I was in my high school graduation ceremony! All my friends and family were there to cheer me with presents and flowers. But the best present of all was a promise/wedding ring from Frankie, a ring I still wear till this day 10 years later. While attending college we decided to get married. We now have three beautiful children and our own carwash business named "Inside Out." We believe anything or anyone can be transformed and cleaned from the inside out, even cars. We also work and volunteer in to different charter schools with the intention to offer and encourage to others the same opportunity of a life transformation that we once received.

SIATech (pronounced SIGH-a-tek) is an award-winning network of charter schools focused on dropout recovery. SIATech is a WASC-accredited high school that operates in partnership with the federal Job Corps and Workforce Investment Act programs on eight campuses throughout California. The school serves 100% low-income and previously out-of-school youth. SIATech excels at identifying student strengths and individualizing instruction to meet each student's needs and goals. The school's safe and caring setting enables students to take charge of their learning and obtain the tools they need for lifetime success, whether it is at their chosen career or further education. For more information on SIATech, watch this short video or visit the SIATech website.

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