By Karla Soto Mullins
I was born in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, the fifth of eight children. My mother became a widow at a very young age, and when I was four years old, she had the opportunity to come to the United States so that she could provide a better life for us. However, it was no easy thing to do. Without a formal education and not knowing the language and culture, we lived a very impoverished life.
I grew up in the inner-city of Phoenix, Arizona, in a very old and run-down home in a very violent neighborhood. We had no heat or AC (remember, this is in Phoenix, AZ where summers can get to around 115 degrees or higher!), no indoor plumbing, and no hot water. All of my siblings and me shared one bedroom, and I slept on a sofa with a large hole that I’d fill with blankets and towels.
As a little girl, I loved school! I loved learning, I loved my teachers, and I felt safe and acknowledged. But as I got older, school wasn’t as fun. I was bullied and made fun of for being too smart, for having ugly clothes, for not being born in the U.S. I had to work at an early age to help my mom pay bills. My middle school years were very challenging. I was introduced to drugs and alcohol and petty crimes like stealing candy from the gas stations, and I started skipping school.
By the time I got to high school, I was very disengaged. I was working long hours and partying too much. I knew nothing about college. My older siblings dropped out of high school and my mom was too busy with the younger kids and dealing with my alcoholic step-dad. It seemed like every week someone I knew from school was going into jail, murdered, getting pregnant, and dropping out of school. Every Monday, we gathered around to find out about the latest casualty, it was sad.
By the time I was 18 years old, we finally moved into government public housing, which was a huge step up for us! We finally had heating and cooling, hot water, and indoor plumbing. But of course, living in government public housing, or “the projects” as we referred to them, we were still surrounded with a lot of crime, violence and drugs.
I faced many struggles as a teen and was kicked out of traditional high school. After getting expelled, a counselor directed me to get my GED. After turning in my placement exam, the instructor called me over to her desk, she asked, “What are you doing here? You aced your placement exam! You belong in school!”
But I felt I didn’t quite belong anywhere, but soon found the charter public school that changed my life forever. I was able to graduate with a high school diploma and with additional college credits. The school even helped me with job placement after graduating.
At Genesis, the teachers and administrators never gave up on me, even after finding out I was pregnant during my senior year. They pushed me even harder to complete my required classes so that I could graduate. They showed me how to fill out job applications, write a resume and prepared me for interviews. Because of them, I was able to land a job with a Fortune 500 company in Phoenix. I worked my way up to a top paid position within the company. Because of my successful career, I was able to provide a safe, loving home as a single mom.
My greatest achievement has been breaking the cycle of poverty, domestic abuse, and dependency on government assistance for my children. Today I am happily married with three beautiful daughters. My oldest obtained a bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the tender age of 20, and now works for a tech real estate company in Seattle. My middle daughter graduated high school last year and is achieving success in the U.S. Marine Corps. My youngest daughter, who will be starting fifth grade this fall, is an elite gymnast, and she is thriving in school and life.
I tell you about the successes of my children because had I not had the option of attending a small charter public school, my life, and their lives, would look a lot different today.
I know first-hand that our educational systems are profoundly inequitable. I’ve seen disparity and racial bias in the school system as a child and again as a parent. Research shows that compared to white children, children of color are more likely to attend schools that are overcrowded, under-funded, with less qualified teachers and lack of access to up-to-date technology.
If it had not found my charter school, I would have not received a high school diploma, let alone had a pathway to a successful career and life. Today, I am on the founding board for Pinnacles Prep, Wenatchee’s first charter public school, which will open in 2021. It is my passion to ensure that all parents and families have access to high-quality options for their children.
As parents, we all want what is best for our kids. To learn if there is a charter public school option for your child, visit wacharters.org today or call 206.424.2780.