A Dream Deferred:

How San Francisco schools leave behind the most vulnerable students

Juana Laura Chavero

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As a new immigrant to the U.S., Juana Laura Chavero quickly learned that she would have to fight hard for her children to get the education they needed. The barriers weren’t just resources or opportunities, but low expectations.

“People say there are lots of parents who don’t care about their kids’ education, but the truth is there are lots of single parents or parents who cannot afford to leave one of their jobs to do all that is required to advocate in the system.”

When Juana Laura moved her family to San Francisco from Mexico, she enrolled her daughter in Washington High School and her sons in Mission High School.

From the beginning, things did not go well for her daughter, Viviana. The school placed her in the wrong classes and gave her the wrong books. When Juana Laura tried to speak to someone at the school who could help set things right, the school was unresponsive.

“Viviana’s counselor did not want to give me an appointment. She said there was no one at the school who could help me in Spanish.”

When Juana Laura finally got a meeting with the counselor, she was given only five minutes.

Rather than assign Viviana to new classes, the school ultimately took her out of all her classes except two. She was still required to be in school all day, so she was assigned to help write hall passes for other students. The next year, she was put in a lower grade. In the end, she graduated two years late.

When Juana Laura’s younger sons — Henddel and Alexis — started at Mission High School, they also encountered problems. First, they were both placed in the same grade – even though they are two years apart.

“I asked at the school and the district, but no one could ever explain to me why they were placed in the same grade.”

At the start of the school year, Juana Laura also found Henddel repeating work he had already done in Mexico. She worried this would put him even further behind his classmates. She tried to get in touch with the school counselor to address this issue, with no luck. It took three weeks to get his classes changed.

The following year, the school again incorrectly gave Henddel classes that he had already taken.

“I know there are many kids who are not able to get into universities because of an error like this by their school,” says Juana Laura. “They are not able to complete their A-G requirements.”

In Juana Laura’s case, she ended up finding out the real problem: the school’s guidance counselor did not expect her sons to attend university at all.

“When my kids had been here for just one month, they didn’t want to say much in English. The counselor determined immediately that they should aim for community college because of this. She said this in front of them.”

After the meeting with the guidance counselor, Henddel asked, “Mama, did you hear what she said?”

Juana Laura told him, “We will show her that we are capable. It won’t be today or tomorrow. It will be the day you show her your letter of acceptance from a university.”

Juana Laura did not relent in her advocacy for her sons. She built a support network that included an independent tutor and the staff at College Connect, a family-based college access and success program. Juana Laura had been working two jobs, but the time needed to advocate for her sons and sort through the complicated college admissions process was overwhelming. So she left her morning job working at Starbucks and continued working as a janitor in the evenings.

“I was lucky that I could leave that job and spend the time advocating. People say there are lots of parents who don’t care about their kids’ education, but the truth is there are lots of single parents or parents who cannot afford to leave one of their jobs to do all that is required to advocate in the system.”

Because of her consistent advocacy, her sons ultimately completed their required courses to attend a state university and they graduated on time. In fall of 2018, Henddel will start at San Francisco State, and Alexis will attend UC Merced.

“My sons graduated in 2017 and are able to attend university because we demanded the materials, and the right classes. I think the district needs to completely re-evaluate its approach. And we, as parents, if we see that a school is not what we want for our kids, let’s not just accept it.”

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