Case Study 2: Juan and Maria Gabriela Rodriquez& Blackwell High School
We revisit the Rodriguez family when Juan is 17-years old and Maria is 14-years old. We learn that they have had very different experiences during their school years. As Juan made his way through elementary and middle school, he consistently had difficulty both academically and behaviorally. Even as a small child, his teachers reported to his parents that he had difficulty paying attention, did not complete his homework, and was often in the middle of class disturbances. By the time he reached the third grade, he was referred for a special education evaluation and found eligible for support services for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). An Individualized Educational Program (IEP) was developed to promote school success, and Juan was placed in specialized classes for part of the school day. Juan was also put on medication, taking Adderall initially and then switching to Concerta. He was placed in tutoring and study skills classes and behavior therapy to address his impulsive behavior. His academic performance and behavior did improve as he made his way through elementary school, but once in middle school, this trend reversed. Juan’s paternal grandmother, Gabriela, insists that this change is because Ramon refused to keep paying for the private Catholic school he had been attending, stating that it was “just a waste of money.” Juan was transferred to public school at the beginning of 7th grade.
It was also during middle school that Juan became resistant to taking the medication as he complained it made him “feel funny.” He became more and more reluctant to go to school, often skipping classes or whole school days, saying that “School is just a joke – I’m not going to get anywhere by going to school.” Juan often made disparaging remarks about his own intellectual capacity especially in comparison to Maria Gabriela , joking that “She got the brains in the family, and I got the beauty.” In addition, he encountered a new group of middle schools kids who also were not doing well academically in school. Several of them had been involved in minor brushes with the police, and all of them voiced a disdain for school. This peer group became central to Juan, and he became more and more estranged from his family.
Now that Juan is in Blackwell Public High School, there are great concerns about whether he will actually graduate. He continues to miss many days of school just barely attending the number of days required to stay enrolled. He has not passed several state standardized tests required to graduate. His grades are mostly Ds and Fs, although he makes As and Bs in the one subject that interests him, which is art. Even when doing well in Art class, Juan quickly dismisses any praise or positive feedback, saying that “Art doesn’t count.” Throughout his public school education, he has been promoted even with low grades. The school system has pushed him to the next grade level without demonstrated proficiency at the earlier grade level. He has become a member of the Latin Kings, a local gang of Latino youth who are involved in the drug route from Miami to New York. Juan’s family is unaware of these activities although his father, Ramon, suspects it.
Ramon is constantly telling Juan that he better not get mixed up in gangs, or he’ll end up in prison. Juan sometimes thinks that, like other teens in his neighborhood, he will probably end up dead or in prison before he reaches age 21. The only reason Juan still goes to school at all is because of the urging of his grandmother, who frequently tells him, “You are such a good, bright boy – please don’t break my heart. Go to school, get your education.”
Juan feels that he is just biding his time until he can leave home. He says that none of his teachers or his family understand him or know who he “really is.” He feels like only the guys in the gang know and respect him – for his toughness, his loyalty to the gang, and his “tagging” activities, when he puts his artistic talents to use with graffiti to mark the gang’s territory. Juan believes that the Latin Kings have his back and that they are all that really stand between him and the harsh realities of his world. Just recently, the Latin Kings retaliated against a rival gang for a brutal beating of one of their members. This incident really ‘got’ to Juan, and it’s only when he is getting high that he feels any peace.
Maria Gabriela Rodriquez’s history with school has been quite different. She learned to read while in kindergarten and consistently brought home mostly As on her report card. She has always loved school and was often singled out by her teachers as the “best student” in her class. Her room is filled with certificates and trophies for academic contests, like spelling bees, science fairs, and academic challenges. Early in elementary school she began to think about going to college, an aspiration especially supported by her mother, Ana, who greatly regretted not having gone to college herself. Maria Gabriela is thinking she would like to go to medical school and become a pediatrician. It is because of this goal that her parents allowed her to go to Blackwell High School once she became a freshman. The school has an accelerated program in math and science that was not available at her private Catholic high school. Although her parents have misgivings about this change, Marie Gabriela is delighted with her new school as she feels like it is opening up opportunities for her. She also likes being around a different group of kids, although she generally doesn’t like her brother’s friends, but they are not at school most of the time.
Even with all of her academic success, Maria Gabriela secretly worries about whether she will be able to make it in college, as she will be the first one in her family to go past high school. She wonders if she will be able to meet the demanding standards of college and med school and is hoping that the special program in math and science at Blackwell will give her a “leg up” that she wouldn’t have gotten if she’d stayed in her old school.
Maria Gabriela has made a lot of friends in 9th grade, mostly other girls who are also doing well in school. She was recently asked to participate in a college preparatory group being sponsored by her school, called “Pathways to Success.” Her two best friends are also in the group. It meets on Tuesdays after school, and she really enjoys it. The group leader, Ms. Sanchez, is one of her favorite teachers whom she admires a lot. She enjoys the group’s discussion of different careers and the helpful hints about getting ready for college. Because she gets anxious when she thinks about actually applying for college, she’s glad that the group is preparing her to take the SATs and complete the college application process as she doesn’t think her mother or father could help her with these tasks. She’s already trying to “round out” her resume by participating in several clubs at school and doing some community service, as she knows that it will take more than good grades and test scores to get into her top choice. She’s also planning on taking some college courses for credit before she graduates, which will put her on a faster track for medical school.
As excited as she is about her future, Maria Gabriela feels pretty overwhelmed sometimes. When doubt and anxiety creep in, she reminds herself about the praise and encouragement that she’s received from her teachers over the years. She also hears her father’s and mother’s voices in her head repeatedly telling her that she’s going to be the first one in the family to graduate from college. She really doesn’t want to let them down, and she tells herself that if she continues to study hard and participate in the Path
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