I was a member of the first class at De La Salle Academy (DLSA), when it was founded in 1984.
Before DLSA, I went to St. Paul’s Catholic School in my native Spanish Harlem. This was a time when people really stayed in their communities, and everyone knew each other. Schools were neighborhood schools. At St. Paul’s, I performed well academically, was able to be in higher level reading classes, etc. My family and I heard that a new school was being formed for gifted and talented students, and that they were looking for students like me. We were starting our own community, and that was exciting.
I remember my first days of being at De La Salle. The dress code stands out in my memory. We were all required to wear blazers. Because I was no longer in uniform, the dress code gave me a sense of freedom as well as maturity (the blazer!). Along with that maturity, we were responsible for both each other and our school building. I remember carrying books and moving furniture. We were the first members of this new community, and we took pride in maintaining it. At first, we were quiet, trying to get a sense of what this community was, who we were, and what part we played it in. We didn’t stay quiet for long!
What I learned at DLSA has stayed with me throughout my life, even the small things. For example, we were taught how to read and fold the New York Times. Logic class was amazing. I still do logic puzzles to this day. We took World Religions with Sister Meg Canty, where we learned about all the major faiths. It is because of that class that I am a spiritual person. Even though I dreaded math, I enjoyed Ms. Driscoll’s class. She made learning fun and she was passionate. With kids like me, who rejected math, she could make another connection with us, for example by taking us to Central Park and teaching us soccer. The teacher who had the biggest impact on me was Mr. Marrero. I still won’t use the word “very” after being told by him so many times that there are always better options! He taught me to love the written word, and taught me to craft it by exposing me to writers and poets I still love. Plus, he was a man of Latino heritage, and he was proud of that, which was inspiring for me.
DLSA was practice for the real world. I learned how to be outside my community, but still part of my community. There was such a variety of us, but we were connected in our passion and values. When I went to the Hun School at Princeton, I was the only Black kid. At DLSA, I had been exposed to all of these incredible educational opportunities along with other kids who looked like me, with teachers who expanded my horizons and took extra time with me when I needed it.
Being at DLSA also helped me learn how to deal with grief. While we were in school on January 28, 1986, the Challenger exploded. I remember us being in front of a TV, silent in our collective grief, students and teachers together. This taught me an important lesson: that it’s alright to be quiet. In difficult moments, take care of yourself and be still. It’s OK not to move for a while, but then you have to move. That is where perseverance comes in.
Today, I believe that my work is to provide an education similar to the one I got. I have been in education for the past 20 years in different capacities, as a college coordinator, summer school director, dean for nine years at three different schools, and now an assistant principal at Brilla College Prep. I do what I do because of what Brother Brian has done: meeting people where they are. I meet my scholars where they are. I treat them like adults, show them a different way, allow them to make their choices. Brother Brian instilled in us a sense of community, of being responsible for those around you. You make your choices understanding that what you do impacts others, so be a decent person.