As a native of Redwood City, I am lucky to have been raised in a tight-knit, supportive community where I was encouraged to do my best. From elementary school at Selby Lane to high school at Menlo- Atherton, I had teachers who saw my potential and made sure I had the opportunity to succeed. My parents grew up in rural Mexico without access to public education and they reinforced the message that attending school was a privilege that I should never take for granted.
However, as I reflect back on my path as a student, I realize that my positive education experience was often not shared by my peers. In fact, the farther I progressed through the education system, I saw fewer kids like me in the classroom. By high school, I was often the only student of color in my college prep courses, and I struggled to believe that I belonged. The reality is that there were many other Latinx and African American kids who could have thrived in those classes but never had the chance.
So when I graduated from St. Mary’s as the first person in my family to earn a college degree, I had a personal mission to help black and brown students like me to pursue their dreams.
I began working as an after school tutor at schools in and around Redwood City as a way to explore the idea of becoming a teacher. One of the sites where I tutored was a public charter school I had never heard of before: KIPP Excelencia. I could tell that something was different at KIPP Excelencia from the moment I arrived. Not only did the teachers believe in the academic potential of every student, but they also created a culture of love and support that made it unique. I saw at KIPP that it was possible for teachers to work together to make an impact inside their classrooms and across an entire school.
When I decided to become a KIPP teacher, I learned that KIPP is not just about developing strong students, but also about creating environments where educators can do their best work. After two years of teaching at KIPP Heritage in San Jose, I was thrilled to return to my hometown last year as an eighth grade history teacher at KIPP Excelencia. I believe my role as a KIPP teacher is the perfect way to give back to the community that has given me so much.
My KIPP Excelencia students are like me–99% kids of color and 84% eligible for free or reduced-price lunch–and my goal is to prepare them to thrive in high school, college, and life beyond. But there is one obstacle to that goal: my KIPP Excelencia students graduate from 8th grade, head off to high schools all over the Peninsula, and we can’t support them to stay on track once they leave.
But that could change if the Sequoia Union High School District votes yes to approve a new KIPP high school in Redwood City. This new high school would provide a high-quality public school alternative for students beyond those who attend KIPP middle schools, and foster innovative ideas that could be shared across the whole district.
I love Redwood City and am so grateful to have grown up here, surrounded by family and neighbors that believed in me. There are thousands of other Diego Maciels here today. Let’s open a new KIPP high school so they too can build a strong future for our community.