A girl was sitting in the auditorium of P.S. 121 at her sixth grade graduation when Mr. Eugene Lang came into her life and promised that he would help with tuition assistance for every “Dreamer” who made it to college. At that point, she was a struggling student wishing to do so much better in school. Although she came from a hard working family, her parents and siblings lacked the formal education to support her academic goals.
All that changed with Eugene Lang’s commitment to the original Dreamer class. Through hard work, persistence, and focused goals, this girl transformed herself and became the valedictorian of her ninth grade class! With this accomplishment under her belt, she had the newfound confidence to pursue and achieve all of her dreams, including becoming the first in her family to earn a high school diploma and a college degree (in business administration in accounting). She went on to work in regulatory reporting and investments for several major broker dealers, including the self-regulatory organization, New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street.
She Had to Be Convinced to Accept her Mentor but Johnny Rivera Completely Changed Her Life
“I am proof of the impact that mentoring and empowering has on a struggling child. I was the first in my family to break the cycle. First to graduate from high school and college in my family. I inspired and empowered my siblings. The ripple effect continued to widen….followed by an older sister who was an 11-grade drop-out and two younger siblings all with bachelor’s and master’s today. My child has a bachelor’s and my niece as well. My niece is working on her 2nd master’s. Other nephews are in college.
I considered Johnny my forever mentor. Although the ‘I Have a Dream’ Foundation founder, Mr. Eugene M. Lang, was also my mentor, Johnny was at a more consistent and direct/present level. At first I was hesitant to accept support, as I didn’t recognize support. He was a stranger to me. Therefore, it took quite a lot of convincing to accept support. I never heard of my neighbors, friends, cousins, siblings being a part of such a commitment in the neighborhood or part of school. However, I finally thought this could be something beneficial. Something totally new.
Just a few days before my 6th grade graduation, my teacher had revealed to me I failed the City Wide Reading test by 2 points. I was an average student; therefore, I was afraid she was to tell me I was getting left back. I passed; however, I felt like giving up. I so much wanted to excel academically, however, although my family was a hard working family, they were not fully educated to support me in my academic goals. Home pressures, taking care of younger siblings, working with my mom since the age of 10 during the period of April through early September selling food in the street or baseball games. I could not focus in school. My mom moved constantly during my early years in school. Sometimes in 3 schools I completed one grade. 2 schools in other grades. In fourth grade she took me out for 3 weeks as she moved, enrolled me in a new school and then moved back and re-enrolled me at PS 121. I was already behind with so many changes of curriculum. Junior high school definitely was a looming hurdle. ‘It is only going to get tougher for me’ is all I could think. If I was given a choice, I would have opted to give up. At this age I already had not reached to be at par with my classmates.
When I decided to accept support after Johnny’s insistence I thought I would give it my all to this new support. Definitely, it sounded like something positive. After feeling such despair towards the end of June 1981, I thought this at least should make a bit of a difference.
Johnny was very persistent. We, as young students, had the most creative excuses to not meet up with our mentors. However, Johnny demanded an explanation as to why it was not possible, and there was always a way for him to make it possible to your availability. For example: can I see you briefly during your school lunch break? He always had a solution to ALL our excuses. There were no impossibilities.
By the first trimester report card, I had seen a positive change in my grades. This motivated me. I’m following my strategies, being truthful to myself, accepting support, and it is working. I now looked at Johnny differently and with more confidence. I now trusted his genuine intent for me. I looked up to him with much respect. There were no more excuses. This is the progress I had always wanted and I was beginning to see that change. I maintained myself consistent. There were no distractions around me that I could hear. I now had a new schedule. Do my home chores and responsibilities immediately, attend workshops, and focus on my school work. I was learning to manage time and priorities, although I was very tired.
By the end of my 7th grade, I completed the year with an over 90% average. I had learned that these were the results of all my sacrifice, acceptance in all support, and dedication to my hard work.
I was now a new person and I was empowered. I returned to 8th grade with a self confidence level that no army could knock down. I was stronger now. I continued to be consistent and surpassed what was in plan for me. I took advice, support, workshops, nothing was more important to me than being focused. To summarize my junior high school turn around, I was selected as the 9th grade class Valedictorian in 1984. I went above and beyond in 8th and 9th grade. I earned my Valedictorian status with much dedication.”
This girl’s experience in the Dreamer program inspired her to generously tutor since she was 16 years old, and having seen the value of mentoring in her own life, she became a mentor as well.
Tutoring Tips from a Dreamer Alumnus
The hardest part is keeping a child focused on the steps of solving a problem. Teaching them how to take the problem apart and work on it step by step, labeling each step. Developing a strategy that helps them remember what they are supposed to find out.
I tutor math as a subject but I also use math to illustrate succeeding for mentoring.
1. When you add positive numbers or higher positive numbers than negatives you always get a positive number. Therefore, add more positive role models, mentors, recreation, choices, activities to keep you on the positive track and you will have positive results all the time.
2. If you don’t work hard, you will always be in a straight line like in the math quadrant, the X line which runs straight in the x-axis. Your life will always be non-changing. For example, as a teenager you may work as a store clerk, and that’s fine; however, you don’t want to have this position for the rest of your life. You want to push forward towards the quadrant one, which is all positive, and make that line into an upward slope. However, working into an upward slope means that it requires effort to go up, effort leads to positive results.