Principal tells story of patience, persistence and love

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.”

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Cranky Teacher

    This was just what I needed to read right now. Sometimes the kids try so hard to push you away, it is really tempting to just say, screw it. But I have seen how kids grow and change and some really beat the odds, if you don’t give up on them.

    Sadly, the odds are still the odds, and for every Tjay there are quite a few who end up homeless or in prison. Those are usually the ones that just one day stop coming to school altogether.

  • TheTruthHurts

    One of the greatest things about the best teachers is their ability to give and give with such a low rate of return. To me, that is a gift. Obviously, their success rate should increase. Nonetheless, for those with that gift (and teaching competence) there are great personal rewards and rewards for all society.

    I had great teachers like this and couldn’t understand why they stuck with such clearly troubled kids. I now understand a bit better and am glad they did.

  • maxparkteacher

    Thanks Katy,

    We need 20 of these stories for every story like the Markham one last week. Good things are happening all through the district if that is what you are looking for.

  • Social(ist) Justice

    This happens all the time. The problem is that most of the students who are born here do not appreciate the opportunity (enough) to refuse to fail. Some kids choose failure by not trying versus failure by giving their all and coming up short. It’s sad they quit on themselves, but beautiful when someone sees enough potential to keep driving the point home that anything is possible! Where have all the outreach workers gone?