“I want to be the next president of the United States!”

That’s the lofty goal of Joel Ajin Rivera (photo), the child of parents who emigrated from Guatemala. The studious, determined fifth-grader attends Bryant Elementary in the Mission, one of four schools that are part of the Mission Promise Neighborhood.

Principal Christina Velasco says, “Joel is a reflection of the mission and vision at Bryant. As educators, our goal is to raise students as 21st-century citizens of the world.”

Joel’s background is typical of his fellow students at Bryant, which is 86.6 percent Latino and 75.8 percent English learners. The latter showcases the challenge when it comes to reading — an area in which the Mission Promise Neighborhood has made great strides via ELL instruction. According to the San Francisco Unified School District, Bryant posted among the largest gains (15.86 percent) in SFUSD in English Language Arts for students who passed last spring’s state SBAC tests. Bryant students are also posting big gains in improved English proficiency for English learners.

Joel’s teacher is Christian Flores, who chose to be an elementary school educator because he believes it is where we acquire the fundamental skills needed to achieve our  goals as scholars. Flores practices what he preaches when it comes to teaching his ELL class, for he was raised in a bilingual household himself, the son of parents who hailed from Mexico. It’s called cultural relevancy.

Flores has seen Joel thrive, based on student effort coupled with parental support. Joel has even been accepted into the SMART program, which has a mission to “provide low-income students access to an exceptional education and the skills needed to thrive in college and in life.” The folks at SMART know that a college degree is earned by only 9 percent of socioeconomically disadvantaged kids (nine out of 10 Bryant students fall into this category). SMART closes the achievement gap via intensive social, emotional and academic support from grades 5 through 12. The result is that 94 percent of SMART students attend college. Joel is on that path, and reading is his vehicle to success.

Joel claims that he has always liked reading, especially the “Who Was?” series of biographies, from which he can learn about the lives of others. The voracious reader has turned the pages of nonfiction books showcasing everyone from Mahatma Gandhi and George Washington to Cesar Chavez and Abraham Lincoln. “Lincoln is my favorite,” explains Joel.

Like the majority of his fellow ELL learners at Bryant, Joel reads in English and Spanish. He even reads to his little brother, Jose, a first-grader at the same school.

Concludes Flores, “My message for parents is that being bilingual is more than language. Bilingualism is another culture.”

Word to live by as we celebrate “Bilingual Child Month” this October.


About Mission Promise Neighborhood

The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.


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