How this alum discovered the spark of curiosity

Jessica Villeda

I am the daughter of proud Mexican parents, but I was slowly letting go of my heritage without knowing it. Thanks to the wonderful teachers at GHC, this first-generation Mexican-American chicana went onto learning, studying and using more Spanish than her own parents! Here’s how I did it, and why it matters: 

Growing up in a district school, I was not introduced to public charter schools until I entered high school. My parents worked tirelessly to enroll my older sister and me into Granada Hills Charter (GHC), known for its academic excellence and long waitlist. They went as far as driving forty minutes each way, from home to school and back again, in order to give my sister and I an opportunity to receive a quality education. 

Seeing my parents’ efforts to provide the best schooling option possible for my sister and me emphasized the importance of obtaining a solid educational foundation that would lead to a brighter future.

As a first generation Mexican-American, these values were personified through my dad, JoseLuis Villeda Valdez, who excelled in medical school and graduated as a doctor from the Instituto Politecnico Nacional in Mexico City. He came from a household where independence was valued. His father did not want his children to depend on anyone; and because of this strongly held conviction, all five of his children went on to obtain college degrees following high school. 

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Jessica's mother and father emphasized the importance of obtaining a quality education for a bright future.

 

My mom, Guadalupe Medina Quintero Villeda, also played an incredible role instilling the value of a strong education. In her formative years, she had to beg her father to let her attend school in Mexico. After moving to the United States, that hunger for education led to her starting high school at 17 years old with no middle school foundation. My mother graduated with honors from Channel Island High School, and went on to study at California State University, Northridge.

Once more, my mother's studies were put on hold as she moved back to Mexico mid-semester, due to a family tragedy. While back in Mexico, my mother obtained both her middle and high school diplomas because credits from the US to Mexico were not transferable. Through her persistence, she emerged triumphant with a Business Degree from the Universidad Tecnologica de Mexico, a private university from which she received a full scholarship. 

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Jessica's mother, Guadalupe Villeda, played an incredible role instilling the value of a strong education.

 

This familial precedence, this noble pursuit so familiar to the immigrant experience, meant that a quality education was a non-negotiable for my sister and me. By the time I could understand the weight of my parents’ conviction, my sister was a proud Highlander, so I was familiar with the School’s stimulating academic environment. Still, it was not until I became a GHC student that I witnessed first-hand the extra spark of academic rigor so prevalent in charter schools: Curiosity.

As most bilingual children in the United States can testify, our parents' native language was taught at home while formal English was taught in school. Since elementary school, English was the only language in which I formed an academic understanding. I learned Spanish through listening and speaking in informal settings such as family gatherings, with friends, and at community events. Then I met Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Pinto, my AP Spanish Language and Spanish teachers respectively. It was in their classrooms that I started my formal education in Spanish. 

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Jessica's family at Segovia, Spain. From left to right: Jessica, Guadalupe (mother), Angeles (mother-in-law), Ivan (husband, and Karina (sister).

 

It wasn’t just Spanish class. Seeing that Latinx representation in educators meant the world to me, especially since I had not experienced much staff diversity in schools until arriving at GHC. This representation provided a great sense of familiarity for me, a first-generation Mexican-American student who, at times, felt as if going to school meant leaving home behind, or leaving the cultural roots taught by my parents when the bell rang and the time to assimilate had begun. Thankfully, this was not the case at GHC!

It was the curious case of perspective and the human experience.

Not only did I feel represented in the classroom, these wonderful educators shed light on other equally important perspectives in history and throughout the western world. It was their zest for cultural experiences, and unique teaching styles, that encouraged me to pursue a degree in Psychology with a minor in Hispanic Studies at Pepperdine University.

Once I received my bachelor's degree, I kept going. I studied abroad in Spain where I completed my Masters in International Education at the Universidad de Alcalá, and where I wrote my thesis on the importance of mental health education as part of the core curriculum in high schools. I took a job with Colegio Internacional Eurovillas (CIE)  and led a program for students to obtain both their Spanish and US high school diplomas, eventually making my way back to the States.

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Jessica and her friends in Valencia, Spain.

I often sit back and look at how my life would be different had it not been for my time at GHC and there is one outcome I am sure of: I would not have gotten this far in life. I would not have explored so many incredible places or created new memories from shared life experiences.

Thank you, GHC, for supporting your students’ pursuit of excellence, pursuit of life passions, and pursuit of happiness. My family is grateful, my parents are proud, and I am ready to take on today's workforce with that extra edge extending beyond the diploma... a curious mind.