At the Oakland school board meeting tonight, Oakland International High School Principal Carmelita Reyes shared a story about one of her students, Tjay, who is now 18. I thought it might resonate with some of you. So here it is, in my words:
Tjay was abandoned in Mongolia and sent to the United States when he was in eighth grade. He was alone in Oakland, without any family. An “unaccompanied minor.” The high school he went to didn’t know it. His first year, he earned a 0.05 GPA. “He cut class constantly and drove his teachers crazy,” Reyes said. In the spring of his freshman year, he decided he needed a change. He enrolled at Oakland International, a small school for recently arrived immigrant and refugee students.
It wasn’t easy.
Tjay entered the foster care system, had brushes with the law and was suspended for fighting. Sometimes, when Reyes lectured him about his decisions in her office, he took his frustrations out on her filing cabinet — which, she said, “will never be the same.” But at some point, something shifted. He joined the basketball team. He took an after-school video production class with KDOL and learned to weld at the Crucible. He retook every class he failed.
Today, as a senior, he has a 3.07 GPA. He is a teaching assistant in a ninth-grade class. He is applying to the CSU.
Reyes choked up when she talked about her teachers. “They could have given up on this kid really, really easily. He was difficult,” she said. “I have a lot of pride in the fact that his teachers did not give up on him, that he did not give up on himself and that this district did not give up on him.”