Perspective: Maria Leon Buitrago, Elkhart Central

Let’s be honest, Elkhart Community Schools offers a truly unique and thoughtful path for students to succeed, something that I personally believe deserves more praise. I feel obliged to share my story and truly give you my perspective of the student life and the effects that this school system has had on my life. To further elaborate on this, I will take you back around sixty-five years.

The setting is Colombia and the time period is the 1950s when my maternal grandmother was forced into manual labor, a modern day slavery, and resulted in her to never actually set foot in an educational institute. My grandmother, a single mother and hard-working woman, was illiterate. We read this article with ease and rarely think about the truly extraordinary gift it is to be able to share thoughts and feelings with each other in writing and reading. I grew up with parents who were learning English alongside me and to be honest, I learned most of my English from a TV. But Elkhart Community Schools perfected this once jargon-based vocabulary. I quickly advanced out of ESL classes during my early years at Osolo Elementary and was even selected as a student to join the advanced class of PEP offered at Pinewood Elementary. Here at Pinewood I truly struggled for the first time in my academic career. I had skipped a whole year of math which I worked to learn on my own at home and with the help of my father. I joined the Math Bowl team at this school to improve my skills. I like to believe that this opportunity made all of the difference for my current major for college is Mathematics. ECS offers opportunities to find your niche and to find what you love to do.

In high school I was able to explore my love for math and took on an array of AP classes that school the offers. With the help of counselors and teachers I applied to college— a process my parents lacked experience in. You see, Central offers an exceptional education, but they also catered to me during the most confusing time that students often endure during their senior year. So here is my thank you to the staff at not just Central, but all schools in the district, for your work truly helps build futures. They will walk you down this road toward the next chapter of my life, and they will then let you go— but with the tools needed to succeed in hand.

Now let me take you out of the 1950s and take you to the 1990s. My mother, daughter to my grandmother, wanted to do what her mother couldn’t do— she wanted to graduate from high school. She took it one step further and graduated top in her class. But Colombia lacks scholarships to colleges and universities. So my mom had to cut her educational career early. Now here I am and I want to do what my mother couldn’t do— I wanted to get into college. I took it one step further and got into my college where I received a scholarship that would cover my tuition. I share this in hopes to inspire students reading this.

I say this with all honesty — regardless of where you come from, your family’s income, or any stereotype set out for you — your dreams are attainable, and this is in part due to the aid of our school district. So here is a word for advice: take classes that challenge you, for these will be the ones that will offer the most opportunity for growth. Join extra curricular activities— not for college application fillers— but for the love of the sport, the service, or the activity. Work or take on an internship and learn about life outside of school and the layers that Elkhart hold. Don’t forget to manage your time. And most importantly— give back to the community that has given you so much. Elkhart community schools will cheer you on along the way but nothing will be done if you aren’t personally motivating yourself along the way as well. Paul Coehlo once said, “People are capable at any time in their lives of doing what they dream of.” Take your fate by the reigns today and take the opportunities being granted to you to find what you love to do and to chase it. So I will conclude by asking you— what did your past generations do? And how do you plan on taking it one step further as a student or member of Elkhart Community Schools?