As I reflect on my experience as a White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) intern, I cannot help but think about all the people in my life — in particular my mother — who have supported me in all the decisions I have made to this point in my young career. Not in my wildest dreams could I have pictured myself in this position.
Without a doubt, the past few months have been a unique time to be in the country’s capital. Through the countless interactions I have had with staff, I have noticed an underlying theme of optimism and compassion for public education. I have learned a lot in this short period of time, and the exposure to many new people and ideas has reinvigorated my desire to teach. Today, approximately a quarter of K–12 public school students in the United States are Hispanic, yet only 8 percent of the teacher workforce is Hispanic, and only 2 percent are Latino males. There is a need for more teachers of color. At the Initiative, strides have been made to highlight the experiences of Latino educators in our K–12 public schools through the #LatinosTeach campaign. Reading through their stories and journeys was very motivating for me.
I realized early on in my college career that education was a subject I felt strongly about. I also knew through my experiences that, unfortunately for many Latino students seeking to go to college, the quality of education they receive in their neighborhoods could prevent them from attending. Through my support system and the preparation I received, I successfully passed my credentialing exams for multiple-subject, Spanish dual-immersion. This school year is my first as a teacher through Teach for America at Bayview Elementary School in San Pablo, California, just a few blocks away from my home. Every year until high school, I recall waking up my siblings on summer mornings to grab free breakfast at Bayview. Francis, the lunch lady, had known us over the years and would always stuff our backpacks with extra lunches to take home. This simple gesture would cultivate my sense of community, and the idea of giving back.
To further my passion for drawing more Latino males into teaching, I plan to attend graduate school in education leadership. Professor Arnetha Ball at Stanford University describes the notion of the “knowing-doing gap” in education research as the difficulty the researchers face in efficiently applying findings to practice. Researchers have found that students of color accumulate more academic benefits from same-race teachers, or when teachers represent and are sensitive to all racial backgrounds. With this in mind, I want be a research activist in education policy and take the necessary steps to apply research to policy, with hopes that I can draw more Latino males into teaching positions.
During my time at the Initiative, I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and I came across a simple yet powerful quote: “Teach the children the truth.” I reflected on the history that I was taught about my Mexican culture and could not recall anything, only the bits my mother and college professors had recounted. I want my own children to develop a richer understanding of their culture; I believe it is crucial for our children to know their roots and be able to navigate this world with a developed cultural identity. I intend to do that as a cultural worker and change agent in my community and many others like it.
Enrique Cornejo is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine and an elementary school teacher. He was a a Spring 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.