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My mother and father immigrated from Guatemala to the US shortly after I was born. They left me to be raised by my grandparents for the earliest part of my life. It was a time of civil war in Guatemala and there was killing happening all around us. We lived in a hut in the country. I especially remember the rain in May because it was always in that month that the rusted metal sheets on our roof would fly away, let the rain in, and turn our dirt floor into mud.
However, my Grandfather protected and provided for us is so many other ways. He worked hard to provide food and clothing. He taught me carpentry and even with no education, he essentially taught me geometry. My Grandfather spent almost half his humble earnings to send my cousins and me to a Catholic private school. I did not understand why education was so important to him. I understood even less, given the fact that we could have used the money to buy better food, clothes, and supplies to improve our home. This went on until I reached the age of ten, when I finally met my mother and came with her to the United States.
In Los Angeles, I lived with my mother, my two brothers, and sister. Here, I was raised by a single mother working two jobs (and at times three) to make sure my siblings and I did not lack any essentials.
I met Mr. John Santos in the fall of 1999, as a Junior at Manual Arts High School. Mr. Santos was a Graphic Communications and Applied Science teacher, as well as the founder and coordinator of the Inner-city Graphic Communications Academy (now the Imaging Sciences and Technology Academy). Right away I understood that Mr. Santos was one of those exceptional teachers who would go the extra mile when it came to helping students succeed.
As a junior in High School, I only cared about graduating and finding a ‘good enough’ job that would allow me to have food, clothes, and shelter and to help my family. However, Mr. Santos became the person who guided me toward a different path that allowed me to achieve things I never could have dreamed of achieving.
In the Fall of 1999, I was invited to take an Advanced Placement Calculus class. Our small group of about 10 students observed how Mr. Santos went out of his way to help our class succeed. When the school would not provide us with printed materials or graphing calculators, Mr. Santos volunteered many hours to print workbooks for us and to raise the money to help us get our graphing calculators. Our Calculus teacher and Mr. Santos would work with us on Saturdays to ensure we were prepared for the AP Calculus exam. I took the AP Calculus exam and was the first student from Manual Arts High in eight years to pass the test. I would have never achieved this without my Calculus teacher and Mr. Santos. I immediately understood I was in the presence of an excellent and committed teacher who would simply not let any student fail.
Mr. Santos motivated me to join his Inner-city Graphic Communications Academy (IGCA). This was the best decision of my life. Because of Mr. Santos, I competed in academic decathlons; took college courses at the California State University, Los Angeles when I was still a senior in high school; received multiple academic honors in high school; received many scholarships as a senior; and attended numerous events where I met many important and leading professionals in academics and private industries. All of these experiences, coupled with Mr. Santos' inspiring words and actions, changed the way I saw myself and what I could become. Mr. Santos' hard work and efforts allowed me to see that success was within my grasp. Because of the opportunities and experiences Mr. Santos provided to me (opportunities the school and district would not provide), I decided I wanted to advance as far as possible academically and, like Mr. Santos, help others succeed.
After my graduation from Manual Arts High School in 2001, I have observed the progress Mr. Santos's academy has made over the years. I continue to volunteer in Mr. Santos' academy because I see the positive influence it continues to have on participating students, their parents, and the community. Mr. Santos' students compete and participate in a variety of events that focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. For example, they competed in the FIRST Robotics Competition, Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Invention Challenge, and the Junior Engineering Technical Society's TEAMS competition. Mr. Santos simply never stops searching for opportunities and events that will enhance his students' education. His classroom, his curriculum, and his academy are constantly transforming to meet his goal of academic excellence. He truly is an amazing and outstanding teacher.
All of my past and present academic and nonacademic achievements I owe in no small part to Mr. Santos; and, just like me, there are many other former students of Mr. Santos with similar stories.
“While I was one of Mr. Santos' students I did not understand why his class was fun, engaging, and academically enriched. It was not until I became a teacher myself that I understood how difficult it is to be as great a teacher as Mr. Santos. A combination of many complex things must occur for a teacher to be an effective teacher. For example, knowledge, passion, compassion, personality, strong values and convictions (to name a few) must be the imprint in the character of the effective teacher. In addition I saw so many other things that Mr. Santos did that made him so much better than other teachers I experienced.
Mr. Santos always shows students how the subject matter applies in the world outside the classroom. This utilitarian approach to education makes students appreciate the subject matter, his lessons, and him as a teacher even more. This is an indispensable teaching technique and approach that teachers must take into consideration (especially when teaching students who face difficult situations that seem to hinder them academically).
Mr. Santos has numerous qualities that make him the exceptional teacher he is. These are just a few that come to mind after being out of high school for so long.
In the Fall of 2001, after graduating from high school, I attended the California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA). I graduated college in the Spring of 2006 with a triple major in English literature, Spanish literature, Latin American Studies, and a minor in Comparative Linguistics.
Recently, I have been an English and ESL teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Between 2006 and 2007 I was an English teacher at KIPP: LA PREP middle school; and between 2007 and 2008 I was an English and ESL teacher at Manual Arts High School (this was the best time of my life because I was given the chance to work side by side with Mr. Santos and learn from him).
In 2008, I was accepted to Southwestern Law School and hope to specialize in Education and Law. I am now working as a Patrol Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department while finishing law school.
The final point I wish to make is when I met Mr. Santos I had multiple difficult hurdles to overcome. Contrary to what television and movies teach us, those of us who face such barriers need hardworking, passionate people who believe in us. Mr. John Santos is one of the most excellent teachers and decent human beings I have ever met. Whenever I confided in him about one of my goals, he would look me in the eye (with a stare that let you know he believed you would achieve) and say, ‘Good,’ then he would begin to formulate a plan to make each goal a reality. I must admit, at times he would embarrass me by making me question why I did not believe in myself as much as he did.
Today, Mr. Santos, remains both a friend and a mentor. I continue to volunteer at the academy he started at Manual Arts High School almost two decades ago. I volunteer because Mr. Santos has helped and continues to help many South Central Los Angeles high school students achieve their academic dreams and become decent, productive human beings like himself.
Having been a student and teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I can honestly (and sadly) say that amazing teachers like Mr. Santos go without recognition and support most of the time--and sometimes with no recognition at all.
One of things I most remember him saying whenever we completed a lesson, “This is what I taught you. Now let’s go see it happen in the real world.” Such sound advice.
Jorge Morales Requena: "All of my past academic and non-academic achievements I owe in no small part to John Santos."