I’d like to share with what one student said about his experiences and successes in a rural, poor, public school in Southern Arizona.  But first, the context…

Rio Rico High School (RRHS) in Southern Arizona was awarded two nationally prestigious academic awards in 2018.  The College Board, (AP) named RRHS the school of the year for the nation among small school districts (14,000 of these schools across the country).  Also, Cambridge International selected RRHS as the top school in the nation!  (Read about the awards here.)

Amidst all of the turmoil and angst, the possible teacher strike, Doug Ducey’s 20×2020 proposal, people choosing sides and ugliness coming at teachers from the public about the failures of education, we have this jewel.  Some use this as a way to say, “Hey, look, RRHS does all of THIS without funding, they’re a poor school in a state that supposedly under-funds education.  Why should we fund them.”  Others say, “Look what we can do … but if we don’t fund it, the people that make this possible CANNOT stay.”

All of that aside, I’d like to share with you two things.  First, a short bit about Rio Rico, and second the first of three speeches that were given by students and teachers at the ceremony announcing these awards. (The other speeches will be posted in future entries.)  The speech below was powerful in its sincerity and weight, and so eloquently delivered that there were many tears of powerful emotion in the room.

Rio Rico is a bedroom community just north of Nogales, Arizona.  It hosts about 20,000 people and is unincorporated.  The High School has just over 1,000 students, the vast majority on free/reduced lunch, over 90% Hispanic and a large portion speak Spanish at home and/or as their first language.  

I attended school in this district before there was a High School.  I went to Calabasas Junior High School and we had 68 students for both grades.  We had a multi-purpose gym with classrooms attached, but the English classes were held in trailers behind the school.  We are rural, poor and very spread out, covering over 62 square miles!  We have one grocery store, a few restaurants and since this is open range, a lot of cows.

Kids here often spend their weekends with relatives in Mexico and the most common place to get your hair cut is “across the line.”  

That is a quick snap-shot of what Rio Rico is like, typical of many towns around Arizona.  

The student giving the speech is 18, and gave me permission to post his speech.  But since he is still a student, his name will be withheld.  Here is his speech:

I am privileged to be able to stand at this podium to represent our school’s valiant efforts and scholarly intellect. Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District #35 has been recognized as the 2018 AP District of the Year. Little in size, but big at heart. The selfless efforts and dedication of this school district’s staff have directed our strong-willed community into achieving remarkable things. I represent the Hispanic community that has so proudly propelled their children without losing the roots of their culture.

Both my parents are Mexican-American and did not receive more than a high school diploma. Despite this, they instilled in me the understanding of the importance of a collegiate education and I will be a first generation college student. From a very young age, my mindset has been to take advantage of the opportunity of learning. I have been fortunate enough to have attended a school district that has made its students their priority.

Taking the step forward and engaging in AP classes seems daunting at first. There are certainly nights where you stay up trying to understand the logic behind the Laws of Thermodynamics, or recalling both parts of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, or even interpreting the symbolism in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But on the flip side, there’s also those very early mornings spent with passionate teachers explaining those puzzling lessons. Helping us believe we are capable of all intimidating tasks while restoring our self confidence. Our teachers and administration always go the extra mile to provide us with the resources vital to our success as students. I applaud all those teachers that have laid the foundation for all those students seeking a sense of fulfillment with their place in the world. One of the many benefits of completing an AP course is the satisfaction of knowing we can compete at a university level with students nationwide.  

Our future depends on today’s youth. Rio Rico High School students have become trailblazers for future generations so that a new norm in academic standards can be set for Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District. The world is rapidly advancing and needs to prepare coming scholars for this evolution. Even though many question their abilities to be able to withstand the load of AP courses, It also increases expectation of self when they succeed. Education makes us humble and creates awareness by expanding our vision. We become more aware about ourselves, about society, and everything that surrounds and affect our lives.

Through the Advanced Placement program, I have not only benefited through the depth of cognitive understanding, but grown as a person by strengthening my confidence,  developing work ethics, and sparking an educational passion that will live to serve me for the rest of my life. Thank you.

If you find this message positive and powerful, please share it with others.  There is a lot of negativity around education today, even from those trying to improve it.  Let’s focus on the good, build it and make it grow.

 

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