Being the Help in my Community

Growing up on the south side of Chicago wasn’t easy. I grew up watching as many of my community members fell into the wrong steps early on in life. Some students within my community weren’t the easiest to deal with, often written off as “bad kids.” I witnessed this from an early age and asked myself, “Why isn’t anyone helping them?”

When I started high school, I had to travel about 20 minutes south of where I lived because I wasn’t accepted into the high school of my choice. Luckily, the school I attended was equipped with some of the most dedicated, hard-working instructors I ever met. My instructors dedicated time before and after school to aid students who needed extra help. I was assured that if I needed to meet with my instructors, I would never be turned away. It was common for staff members to lead extra-curricular activities. They all knew their students and expressed genuine interest in their students’ success and discipline. They exemplified patience and empathy for students whose circumstances were far beyond what anyone could imagine. Their level of care for their students’ education transformed me as an individual and as a student.

These life-changing experiences motivated me to serve communities like mine. Being a first-generation college student from a low-income community can be terrifying. It’s not uncommon for us to feel alone at times because of the lack of support within our communities and even from our households. Academically, it can feel like we’re barely catching up to students who had the privilege of a head start. This has informed where I work and how I serve.

Throughout college I’ve been employed through City Colleges of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools. I’ve been able to work with students like me, oftentimes first-generation and low-income. One of the most positive experiences within education has been working with GEAR UP, a grant-based program that increases the academic performance and preparation of students in secondary and post-secondary education. Our mission is to help students all over Chicago succeed through high school and to aid them through the college process, along with mentoring them through their first year of college. As a team, we increase our community’s awareness of post-secondary education by aiding students through the financial aid process, researching scholarships opportunities, connecting students with organizations on campus, and hosting academic workshops. It has been heartwarming to support my city’s youth through their journey to college.

Because of the great support and experiences I had in high school, I want to educate, reform, and advocate for communities like mine–communities that are often overlooked and misunderstood. We are marginalized from other communities due to our crime rates and delinquency. This creates a cycle of hurt, violence, and indifference within our communities. Therefore, as a future educator, it is my goal to give a voice to communities who oftentimes don’t. I will take the time to get to know my students and foster parent involvement. In order to have a community flourish, students and families must feel supported. I have seen my own high school community thrive, and I will fight to do the same within the Chicago Public Schools system.

Lourdes Bustos is a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a 2018-2019 virtual intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.