George Lucas Educational Foundation
Education Equity

How I Broke the Cycle of Poverty

Trinidad Garza Early College High School helped Carlos Nava define and reinforce his personal narrative outside of the confines of society.

June 14, 2016
An adult female in a counseling room is sitting across a small table from a teenage student, helping him fill out a form.
Photo credit: Edutopia

As a Mexican American, I was born into a low-income, working class, immigrant family in Dallas, Texas. The prospect that I would attend college was such a slim possibility that my parents couldn't even imagine it. And yet college happened for me. By the summer of 2015, I'd graduated from Southern Methodist University with a BA in history, and through that experience, I traveled the world. I touched the red bricks of Malbork Castle in Poland, I stood before the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and I studied in England at the University of Oxford. Not only did I graduate from college and experience cultures that I never thought possible, but now I'm applying to graduate school. I will reach my goal and become a professor in history.

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Rewriting My Personal Narrative

However, there was a time when I almost didn't go to college. In my senior year at Trinidad "Trini" Garza Early College High School (ECHS), I entered a short-lived, dark, and depressive time in my life.

When the economic recession hit the country in 2009, it impacted my family. I couldn't afford school supplies. I couldn't get new clothes. We were living below the poverty line and just didn't have the money. I felt exhausted emotionally, mentally, and physically. Not being able to afford new clothes or a cell phone, like the rest of my peers, took a toll on me. My circumstances began to degrade my self-esteem.

What chance did I have of going to college? That pipe dream was never going to happen. I was kidding myself for believing that. Why should I even try? I couldn't answer that, so I didn't try. In my senior year, I stopped turning in assignments, I wouldn't show up for exams, and I stopped going to class.

Noticed, Included, and Motivated

My teachers noticed immediately that I was withdrawing from academic life, and through a series of roundtable discussions and weekly one-on-one conversations, they gave me a safe space to talk about what I was going through, helped me create a plan to get back on track, and reminded me how far I had come and how far I could still go.

I felt like I was not only part of a team but also part of a family. They showed me concern and understanding, and they helped me to see that I could live beyond the impersonal narrative that a capitalist society was trying to force upon me. I realized that I could create my own story.

Together, we mapped out a plan for how to catch up on assignments and stay on course for the remainder of the year. They also guided me through applying to universities, financial aid, and scholarship applications, and how I could transfer the college credits I had accumulated through the Early College high school program.

After I graduated from Trinidad Garza ECHS in the summer of 2010, I remained at Dallas County Community College and took a few courses at UT Arlington before I transferred to Southern Methodist University (SMU) in 2012.

Rediscovering My Strength

My first semester at SMU was a difficult transitioning period. I experienced culture shock as I met students that came from a more privileged background than myself. I had to adapt and learn social norms that I hadn't grown up with. Also, the courses at SMU were more academically demanding than what I had experienced before.

Meanwhile, my family was still recovering financially, like the rest of the country. Although we were doing much better than we'd been just a few years before, I couldn’t afford the high-end clothing that many of my peers wore. Nor could I afford to eat out at restaurants as often as they did. In the first few months at my new university, I felt like I didn't belong.

I had difficulty finding other students with a background similar to mine. However, I remembered those life-changing conversations with my teachers, principal, and counselor at Garza. I reflected on what I had already overcome in my life, how I got through it, and how far I could still go, and that gave me strength.

I realized that the admissions office hadn't made a mistake. I deserved to be there just as much as any one of my peers. I was the master of my own narrative, and I was not going to let anything hold me back. I persisted.

As time went on, my culture shock began to dissipate, and I learned to adjust to more rigorous academic courses. I began to flourish. Moreover, with the help of scholarships, I realized a childhood dream of travelling through my university's study-abroad programs. It wasn't long before I walked across the stage and received my degree with pride.

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

I must attribute my outcome in college to the lessons and experiences I received in Trinidad Garza ECHS. My time at Trinidad stands as one of the most influential experiences of my life. From the first moment that I walked into Trini Garza, the cycle of poverty that I was born into began to break.

There I had the opportunity to begin college as a high school student, which greatly diminished my fear or timidity regarding higher education. The fact that I could take college courses for free lifted a huge financial burden. My perception of my own academic potential skyrocketed when I realized that, at age 14, I was attending college courses alongside college students.

Trinidad Garza gave me an opportunity to prove myself and explore my limits. Moreover, it really impressed college admissions. Even now that I'm out of college and navigating the real world, I still find strength when I look back at my past experiences. I continually reflect on what I have overcome and how much farther I have left to go. The lessons from my high school teachers, principal, and counselor continue to inspire me as I now set my sights on graduate school.

School Snapshot

Trinidad Garza Early College High School

Grades 9-12 | Dallas, TX
Enrollment
419 | Public, Urban
Per Pupil Expenditures
$11,766 District$10,177 State
Free / Reduced Lunch
84%
DEMOGRAPHICS:
87% Hispanic
11% Black
1% White
1% Multiracial
Demographic data is from the 2014-2015 academic year. Fiscal data is from the 2015-2016 academic year.

This blog post is part of our Schools That Work series, which features key practices from Trinidad Garza Early College High School.

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Filed Under

  • Education Equity
  • College Readiness
  • School Climate
  • Student Voice
  • 9-12 High School