Public schools helped me achieve my family’s dreams.

Picture of William Hernandez

William Hernandez

Picture of William Hernandez

My mother left El Salvador before she finished high school. Once she made it to America, she was able to take some classes to work towards her degree. My dad never finished high school. My mom had me when she was very young, at just 18. Fortunately we lived in a wealthy part of the United States, in Arlington County, VA, with well-funded public schools that accepted me and helped meet my needs all the way through high school.

I had a lot of family firsts growing up in America. I was the first person in my entire family to learn English, as we all spoke Spanish at home. I was that kid you see translating for his mother whenever she had to run errands or meet with people at school. I was also the first of all my siblings, being raised by a single mom. I have three sisters on my mom’s side, a sister on my dad’s side, and I think four brothers. My dad left a long time ago, so I’m not really sure how many other siblings I may have. My life definitely wasn’t the most stable, but in my public school, I had a safe space.

Like so many students before me, I was blessed to have great teachers, but one really stood out. During my senior year at C.D. Hylton High School in Dale City, VA, my algebra teacher went above and beyond to look out for me. She could see that I was having it rough and she did everything she could to help keep me on track and graduate.

At the time, I was working almost all evenings after school, and on weekends. Even when I was mastering my school work I simply didn’t have the time to complete everything after school. Fortunately my algebra teacher and I had overlapping free periods, so she sat with me almost every day to ensure I got everything done. And if I was struggling with a subject, she was there to help me work through it. She was an English woman and still to this day I recall the way she was always drinking breakfast tea with cream in it, it’s just one of those fragments of a memory that’s always stuck with me.

But if it wasn’t for her, I never would’ve graduated high school. She spent so much time helping me and I loved her for it. If I ever saw her again I know I would just start crying. She really changed my life. Thanks to her, I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school and the first to go to college.

So when I had children, I knew I wanted the absolute best for them. Virginia still has amazing public schools. We did look into a private Christian academy at first, but we decided to have our kids go where everyone was welcomed just like I was.

Obviously COVID has reshaped the way schools have operated, and it’s highlighted some real shortcomings, but it’s also shown just how amazing and supportive our public schools continue to be.

One of the more frustrating things we’ve had to endure lately has been the lack of funding to hire enough bus drivers, and that was challenging to navigate at first. Often we’d be told that the bus would be delayed a bit because of the shortage, only to learn hours later that no bus was coming at all. Eventually I started having to drive my middle schooler to class every day. Along the way, we’d see other neighborhood kids stuck without the bus, so I just started giving rides to the other kids in our community.

I’ve also had a child enter kindergarten right as the pandemic took hold, so they started school entirely online, which really is difficult for a young child, at least it was for mine. Now that they’re back in school I’m worried about them being behind. I’m sure a lot of kids are in a similar situation, but I can see mine definitely has some ground to make up now that school is back.

I definitely wish our public schools would get more funding from state leaders, because our schools are doing so much. Our schools are still preparing two hot meals a day for kids for free, and that’s just awesome. I know how important those meals can be, both as a parent having to provide for multiple kids every day and from when I was a hungry student.

I also want to make sure our public schools are able to provide not just high quality educators like I benefited from, but also continue to offer enriching extra-academic programs. I thrived in music programs from elementary school through to band in middle school. I can also say that having a funded soccer team in high school absolutely changed my life. The relationships I built while playing, the jobs I had coaching soccer, it all is a blessing I hope other kids can experience.

I have one more kid at home who will be going to public schools as soon as they’re old enough, and it’s my hope that all of my kids will get to graduate from diverse, enriching, and well-funded schools.

William Hernandez is a benefits analyst for a government contractor and lives in Stafford, VA, with his wife, a nurse, and three kids. He’s also an Everton soccer fan and has been lucky enough to travel to England to have breakfast tea with cream in it.

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