In the last semester of my grade-school education, my priorities have become a little different than your typical high school senior.
While most of my classmates are preoccupied with leaving behind some kind of legacy through senior class pranks, gifts or unique prom outfits, my focus is invested in leaving behind a different kind of legacy.
As an immigrant, bilingual student, I have set out to leave behind a legacy that will benefit and amplify the protection and well-being of all those immigrant bilingual students that will come after me for years to come.
For me, this means advocating for legislation like House Bill 159 which seeks to establish a multicultural and multilingual framework for public education to address the unique and linguistic needs of ALL New Mexican students.
It means advocating for laws like HB 111 which will give educators in rural New Mexican schools the tools and skills necessary to teach in bilingual and multicultural classes.
It means pushing for legislation that will increase the number of bilingual and TESOL-certified teachers like HB 120 seeks to do.
I have been in Albuquerque Public Schools since fourth grade, and ever since, I have seen firsthand the lack of accommodations for bilingual student like myself.
When I immigrated to Albuquerque from Mexico at the age of 9, I struggled to learn English in a school that was not prepared to help me to learn, adapt and thrive. Enrolling in school was also a struggle due to the language barrier my parents faced when dealing with school administrators.
Believe it or not it took us two months to finally be able to enroll me in the school.
You can imagine my isolation on my first day of class when I realized that no one spoke Spanish except for two other students whom the teacher came to rely on to keep me informed of what was happening in the class.
When she saw that they were not capable of explaining everything to me and that I wasn’t able to keep up with the class she would send me to the computer to play “educational games.”
I felt like a burden. I’ll never forget that awful experience. I’ll never forget that awful feeling.
That was just one of many similar experiences I have lived throughout my time as a student.
My experiences have shown me, sometimes the hard way, that to solve all these issues students need the adequate support and funding for classes and programs that are designed to help us multicultural students by giving us an equitable education.
Every student across New Mexico deserves to feel included, supported and motivated to continue with higher education or trade no matter their background.
Effective tools are needed to create opportunities for multicultural students and we must include parents and teachers all with the purpose to make students learn and grow in an accommodating atmosphere.
After all we are the future.
Our education system has not been created in our favor and that needs to change. Today more than ever we need bold and immediate action to transform our educational system. We have an opportunity, so let’s do it!
As my senior year comes to an end, I will continue to advocate for this educational justice through my work as an Education Justice fellow with the New Mexico Dream Team and our participation in the Transform Education NM coalition.
This is the legacy I want to leave behind.
Michelle Soto is a high school senior at Albuquerque Public Schools and an Education Justice fellow with the New Mexico Dream Team.