Since its 1992 bankruptcy, West Contra Costa School District has held the dubious achievement of ranking last in the state of California. WCCUSD has not only failed to prepare its students for college, it has failed to educate them to grade level.
I understand this failure firsthand. I am a product of WCCUSD.
My mother was only 38 years old when she lost her battle with cancer. Losing her transformed a 9-year-old, happy and smart kid into a rebellious and angry one who felt all alone. Forced to stay with other family members who viewed me as a burden, I learned to fend for myself. I was a little kid and needed help, but no one noticed that I was suffering internally.
I thought I could find refuge in school, but at WCCUSD I was invisible at best, and labeled a "troublemaker" at worst. The lack of available counselors was a key factor of the failure. Times were tough for me, and instead of compassion and emotional support; I faced suspension or other "un-teaching" methods whenever the problem was beyond a paper and a pencil. Instead of a learning opportunity or a chance for redirection, I was cast out of the school.
I started doing drugs daily to stop the pain I felt. Before I knew it, I was addicted. Richmond, infested with drugs and violence, is a rough neighborhood to live in. The marijuana that keeps the air filthy consumes its youth. Gun violence keeps low-income youth from pursuing dreams. As a former gang member, I never had a day without thinking about death. I am a survivor of a war zone whose victims are the heart and soul of our community.
All of the victims in my community were, like me, pushed away from the West Contra Costa Unified School District because they were "troublemakers." A cry for help or a difficult life change would be dealt with in the simplest and quickest way -- for the school. Suspension or juvenile detention was the only options for "helping." The "school-to-prison" pipeline is in full effect for the children of Richmond.
One alternative to the status quo is Restorative Justice, which became a lifeline for me. Through the lifestyle and culture of Restorative Justice, I focused on repairing the harm done to me. By practicing self-control and working to release the hatred and resentment I had built up, I found a way to feed my desire to learn.
I read meditation books and began to see the world from a new perspective. I fought my way out of drugs and violence. I used education to overcome my internal pain. I believe education to be a medicine that can heal any disease or problem; and every child has a right to a good education.
This summer, I have dedicated my time to working with SFER Action Network. I have found a passionate group of like-minded students who believe in the power of education, who believe in our intrinsic right to an education. It is time to stand up for the children of WCCUSD.
One of the best ways I know to help the children of my community is to select school board members who will put the students first.
I encourage everyone to participate in the elections, learn about the candidates, find out their position on zero tolerance and restorative justice. Cast your vote. We need candidates who believe in a child's right to a high-quality education. It is their right and our obligation. It is time to appoint effective leaders in the community who will revolt against the status quo. Last in the state is unacceptable. The time has come. Let's choose school board members who are up to the job.
Rodrigo Corona Flores is a Richmond High School graduate, a student at UC Berkeley and a member of SFER Action Network.