Helping Your Teen Get the Most out of High School

This parent sent their student to a new high school that connects students with their community. Here’s what the experience as a parent has been like.

By Team XQ

What It’s Like to Be a Parent at a High School With a New School Model

When it comes to rethinking high school and ensuring the future success of America’s students, the expression that “It takes a village” is both apt and accurate. But what does that village look like? 

Since XQ launched in September of 2015, we’ve learned that the village is more like a universe. It’s vast and complex. It is composed of students and teachers, both of whom serve to educate each other. It is made up of towns, cities, and their communities. It is defined by hopes and dreams, as well as goals that are big, small, and every size in-between. And anchoring it all are families. Moms and dads and stepparents and siblings. Grandfathers, aunts, and uncles. Close friends. Mentors. And, just as student voice is of central importance in XQ’s journey to rethink high school, so is giving a platform to the voices of families.

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Arturo, whose stepson Justin is a sophomore at Latitude High in Oakland, California, and Christian Martinez, who is the Dean of Students at Latitude. During our time together, we discussed what it’s like to be a part of the XQ family, literally.

A special thank you is owed to Christian for facilitating this conversation.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Arturo: My name is Arturo Garcia. I came here from Mexico City to follow the American dream and have a better life for my family.  

Can you tell us a little bit about Justin?

Arturo: Justin arrived from El Salvador two years ago. He is really into playing sports and is really interested in technology. We see him following a profession in the future where he’s developing himself around technology and working with his hands. We just want him to do something that is meaningful for him.

We can see him diving deep into engineering and design and see himself expand into that knowledge. His mom and I didn’t have that opportunity back home. I can see what he is experiencing as a student as an opportunity for him to grow.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you first heard about Latitude?

Arturo: The first time I heard about Latitude was around a high school fair that happened at Justin’s old middle school, which is right around the corner. That’s where the people from Latitude came by and they told Justin, “Hey, this is a brand new high school that’s going to open this summer coming up. Are you interested?” I liked the idea that it was a different type of high school. That he was going to be learning in different ways.

Christian: That person that sold the dream was me! I connected with Arturo and I just gave him the story of myself, how the future is changing, and how we need to think outside the box when it comes down to high school experiences for our kids. He was able to say, “Yes, that’s what I need Justin to dive into.” Justin just came from El Salvador two years ago. During that time his English was limited. We offer English language development classes for him and he’s able to excel at that at this point in 10th grade.

Arturo, Mom and Justin, they had a conversation that night right after listening to our pitch. Justin was like, “I don’t want to look for another school. I think Latitude’s the one. If I don’t get into Latitude then we’ll figure something out. But Latitude’s the only one I want to go to.” So from the get-go, he was like, “That’s where I want to go.”

One of Latitude’s foundational pillars is community connection. Have you seen that in action, Arturo, as far as Justin’s education goes?

Arturo: I have seen a lot of collaborations with different companies where students are able to just go and see the work that professionals are doing. There was Autodesk, which is in San Francisco, and Justin took part in that visit. He was able to experience a professional setting. That was the first. The second was when he went to YouTube. Justin came back with this voice. It was a different voice. He was able to say, “I went to YouTube.” That’s something that’s unheard of because when Justin is talking to his peers and his community, people are saying, “You went to YouTube? How did you do that?” That just gave him so much pride to be part of a school that is doing things differently and outside the box.

Arturo, could you speak a little bit about what your relationship is with the educators and staff at Latitude?

Arturo: Latitude is definitely like an extension to my family. Latitude brings this open-door policy where people are able to communicate about the issues and the challenges. There’s always constant communication between the educators, the staff members, and the family. So we always feel super welcome when we arrive.

Christian: The type of engagement that they bring to the family is high-level. They don’t look down upon him. It’s just like, “We’re going to address you as the human being that you are with respect and knowledge because everybody has their own story.” 

Arturo: It is important to me that people know my story and they validate that story.

Do you feel that Latitude is helping prepare Justin for all the things that he would like to accomplish?

Arturo: I believe Latitude is exposing Justin to different professions and providing him with the ability to experience various workplace settings. He’s able to make a decision and just pursue his passion. At the end of the day, it’s up to Justin to make his decisions in life. There are old schools in Oakland that just impose the track that students have to follow and maybe the student doesn’t want to do that. But Latitude feels like it’s the right place for Justin.

Can you talk a little bit about how you encourage Justin to forge that path on his own and the trust that you have in him?

Arturo: I have those conversations with Justin on a monthly basis. I tell him, “Hey, you got to follow what makes you happy. Don’t follow the money. Follow your passion because at the end of the day that’s what’s going to resonate with you in the future. So if you’re good at math, then go ahead, try diving into jobs that are really about math and you are able to experience that. If you are into art, don’t be a chemist. Be an artist and follow that journey. Make sure that you are talking to your advisor about what kind of artist you want to be in and what kind of jobs you can be in when you follow the arts.”

This one’s for you, Christian. Maybe you could talk a little bit about the importance of community engagement.

Yeah, for sure. Having an awareness of where our kids come from and what their backgrounds look like is definitely embedded in the community and the connections that we have with the families. 

We make every connection thinking about that child’s future because that’s pivotal for who we are in our mission statement. We like to say that we like to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk,” and we’d like to deliver results and not just sell hope to the community. We want to make sure we see them four years from now graduating, going to a college and definitely pursuing what they want to be.

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