A Caterpillar and a Butterfly
Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 8:20AM
AVID Center in AVID, College Readiness, Diversity, Student Stories, Teacher Stories, avid alumni, avid family, avid grad, college readiness, college ready, ell, gang, school transformation, social emotional, student tranformation, transformation

By Bill Madigan, AVID Staff Developer
AVID grad, Raquel Nunez
“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”  -C. S. Lewis

Raquel was struggling with her college application personal statement for  Pitzer College at Claremont. No wonder—the prompt was, “Describe an animal with which you share characteristics and show how that animal would benefit Pitzer College.”  This was the 1994 application prompt probably devised by some wizened hippie. Well, Raquel had a start at least with the theme of a caterpillar and butterfly, but her essay lacked message or significant personal revelation. So I asked, “What is the most shameful or painful experience you have faced?”  Raquel frowned for just a moment; then her eyes grew wide and troubled, “I know what to write, now.” She returned to her desk and started to write furiously.

She dropped her rough draft in my hands as she left class. I immediately read the piece, and I’m sure my eyes widened and looked worried just as Raquel’s had. She wrote about being jumped out of a gang. She told of her mother driving her to the parking lot of a school on a Sunday where Raquel got out of the car, was surrounded by six girls, and beaten. Based on the “code” of this event, her mother could do nothing but witness the savagery. She told of how she got back in the car with blood streaming from her mouth and a patch of hair missing near her temple. Raquel related that her mother kept her tear-stained eyes looking forward out the windshield as they drove home.

Her essay described the event without sentiment but with edgy detail. That year AVID awarded Raquel’s essay high honors and Mary Catherine Swanson chose to have Raquel and some peers act out the “jumping” scene at the Summer Institute in San Diego. I remember feeling so proud that Raquel was on that stage getting the appreciation and regard. Especially since I’m sure she never imagined her painful personal history would be displayed and honored. Well, little did I know that her trajectory would continue to arch ever higher.

She was accepted to Pitzer College and went on to graduate and get her teaching credential. She only sought my assistance a few times throughout her college experience. She had a few doubtful moments in her first few semesters, partly because she felt so out of place. She was used to her high school, Mount Miguel, which was and still is a very culturally diverse school. Pitzer was not so diverse then. AVID had done its job; Raquel was an underrepresented student in a great school. Well before AVID’s Higher Ed initiative, a few encouraging emails from me was all she had to keep her head up. I’m certain most of us in AVID underestimate the complex challenge of remaining in college when we don’t recognize ourselves in the student body. With the same toughness that she showed years before in her gang beating, she made it through. The key here is that the emotional, cultural, and social landscape of the college world is too often a wall too high to scale without caring, invested human beings holding vigil with you. The social/emotional need can’t be ignored, no matter what methods we’ve armed our college students with.

She taught elementary school for six years, focusing on her English Language Learners, especially. Then her passion to help the growing ELL population grew. Her work became specifically focused on ELL instruction when she joined San Diego Unified’s Office of Language Acquisition. In 2007, she became a certified Systematic ELD trainer to help the district reach its goal of training teachers at all 180 elementary schools. In 2008, she left San Diego to work for Mayor Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS) as a member of the instructional team providing professional learning for K-12 literacy coaches. Last year she obtained her doctorate degree from Claremont McKenna in EL learner best practices (her dissertation is available online).

Dr. Raquel Nunez is an AVID success story of the highest order, and for me she is a blessing and inspiration. She is indeed a pupil that can teach the master many things, and I am very fortunate to have lived this maxim. As C.S. Lewis states, educators irrigate and create the environment for growth and fulfillment. I gave Raquel water when she was an AVID student of mine for three years. She, in turn, brings a river of water to thousands of students who will grow and be able to take part in our democracy. Knowing her story and watching her become herself has been one of the highest honors and rewards of being an educator I have ever experienced. Thanks, Raquel!

Bill Madigan has been an educator for more than 25 years. He has taught emotionally disturbed and at-risk students, as well as Advanced Placement® learners. He has also been an AVID coordinator and Elective teacher for almost 20 years. Bill has also been a Staff Developer both privately and with AVID, teaching brain-based learning, as well as English language learner best practices.



Want to read more great blogs from Bill? You can start here!
What Are We Doing When We Think?
Motivating Students: Could Pride Be the Best Incentive?
What About Latinas?
Invisible Curriculum
Mindfulness in Education

For more on AVID, visit http://avid.org/what-is-avid.ashx.

Article originally appeared on AVID Adventures in College & Career Readiness (http://avidcollegeready.org/).
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