At a glance, Jacob Chevalier, Krysten Muir, Kiki Perry and Dairany Blanco-Flores appear to have little in common but their age, but they share something deeply personal. With the help of their public schools, these teens each overcame adversities that once seemed to be barriers to their personal dreams of success and achievement.
The four bright students, who described challenges from poverty and homelessness to gender discrimination, told their stories to a group of more than 200 civic, school and policy leaders who attended The Equity Event in Phoenix earlier this month.
Many attendees at the March 10-11 conference, provided leadership strategies and promising practices for closing opportunity and achievement gaps, said the students provided the best insight into the importance of equity, or ensuring that every student has the support he or she needs to achieve.
Muir, is a senior and a kicker for her football team at Marcos de Niza High School in the Tempe Union High School District. Her path began as a young girl living in Las Vegas watching games with her father. She noticed the kicker of a team had long hair, and when the kicker took of their helmet it was a girl. She immediately made it her goal to join her school’s football team, and she did.
Muir said that despite some of the initial hesitation of other team members, they came to accept her. Much of her motivation came from her dedicated coach, who spent extra time training with her for games.
Muir believes it is important to support students and their dreams, because, “if you tell them ‘no,’ it just stops.”
The other students agreed with Muir, and shared their own stories and suggestions to support children facing adversity.
Video by Claire Roney/AZEdNews: Student Voices Panel at The Equity Event March 11, 2016 in Phoenix
Chevalier is a 2015 graduate of Bioscience High School in the Phoenix Unified High School District. Chevalier has dealt with a complicated home life including poverty and his father’s incarceration.
Chevalier found the determination to complete his high school career with the support of his biology teacher. Today, he assists other students by serving as a coalition-chair of Stand & Serve. This non-profit seeks to unites schools, families and communities to cultivate good and end bad through peer-based solutions.
“It’s important to think just how many issues a child can be facing,” Chevalier said.
Chevalier stressed the importance of just listening to students, and not interrupting them when they are trying to open up to their peers and adults.
Her day consisted of rollerblading, until she obtained a bike, to Hamilton and from there she boarded a bus to EVIT, where she was completing the dental program. After her classes at EVIT, she would ride the bus back to Hamilton and rollerblade or bike home. She estimates that she’s biked over 6,000 miles during her commute.
“I just knew that I had to finish EVIT, if anything,” Perry said. “I always felt encouraged by the teachers and my school, and I had a lot of encouragement from my advisors.”
However, Perry said she was told she “didn’t seem like the type of person” who was homeless, but in her mind there shouldn’t even be a “type.” Perry wished that there was more acceptance of students being who they are and a greater focus on helping the individual.
Blanco-Flores agreed with Perry.
“And I do believe that sometimes the best thing to do is just ask the student what’s going on,” Blanco-Flores said.
Blanco-Flores, now a college student at Benedictine University in Mesa, is seeking a teaching degree. She graduated in 2015 from Tempe High School and participated in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program. AVID showed Blanco-Flores that she could take advanced classes and opened her to more opportunities.
Blanco-Flores is the first member of her family to graduate from high school. Her goal is to earn her teaching degree to help other students who need help to overcome barriers and challenges she did.
“My status, nor my background, whatever my story is, should not stop me from wanting to be someone in life. And it taught me the biggest thing, which is that no one can take your education away,” Blanco-Flores said.