SANTA CRUZ -- Two months before his high school graduation, Luis Falcon was stabbed nine times in an East San Jose park, a victim of gang violence.
Eight years later, Falcon, now a UC Santa Cruz senior, plans to return to his childhood neighborhood as a teacher, to inspire change. Falcon, who lost a kidney and was comatose for more than a week, called the month-long hospitalization the worst time of his life.
"So many thoughts went through my head, even revenge," said Falcon. "But then I thought about my family. I didn't want to do something bad, for my mom, seeing her cry."
Falcon said he started to think about his neighborhood.
"Something needed to change in my neighborhood and maybe I could be that little spark," he said.
Falcon's route to college and a teaching career, however, was not direct. Not only did he have to re-learn how to walk and chew food, he said, but he was undocumented and ineligible for college financial aid.
He enrolled in remedial math and English at San Jose City College but dropped out after one semester.
"I just couldn't handle it," Falcon said. "I was just paranoid I was going to get attacked."
He started working full time at a San Jose factory, assembling computer parts -- a turning point, he said.
Wanting more from life, Falcon continued his studies at community college, eventually transferring to UCSC on scholarship. Falcon attributes his passion for teaching to the three years he spent tutoring at San Jose's Ace Charter Middle School, prior to and during his time at UCSC.
For educators to be successful, they need to address some of the economic challenges students face outside school, Falcon said. For example, many students, including himself during high school, are hungry and can't concentrate, he said.
"On the way to school, I'd stop at a liquor store, I'd get chips and a soda and that was my breakfast every morning," he said.
After graduating this spring, Falcon, now a U.S. citizen, will begin training with Teach For America, a two-year placement in a low-income school through which he'll earn a teaching credential. Falcon said he intends to return to his San Jose high school, Downtown College Prep.
Falcon said the neighborhood is plagued with gang violence and fear, but it's his home.
Jennifer Andaluz, the school's executive director, said she's known Falcon since he was in ninth grade, and his grit and persistence are what teachers need to succeed.
"It's about developing a mindset where you can actually grow in the areas where you currently struggle, and that growth is only going to come about as a result of hard work," Andaluz said.
Follow Sentinel reporter Kara Guzman at Twitter.com/Karambutan
©2014 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)
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