Two members of Green Dot’s community were among those honored last week in separate ceremonies at the White House.
Fairley Alum Attends Michelle Obama Education Summit
Bettie Elston, a 2015 graduate from Green Dot’s Fairley High School in Memphis, was invited to the “Beating the Odds” summit as part of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative. Beating the Odds aims to inspire students to continue their education after high school. Over 130 students from across the US were invited to hear panelists speak about the importance of education.
At the event, Elston met the First Lady and the President, as well as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “I was really impressed by Mr. Duncan,” she said. “He told us, ‘Chase whatever dream you might have, but education will open doors for you wherever you go.’”
For this young student, higher education has always been part of her long-term plan. Enrolling at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in the fall, Elston intends to study biology or political science and return to her community to mentor other students.
“Mrs. Obama reminded us that we don’t have to come from anything to become something,” she said. “She made it clear that education can lead to greater opportunity.”
Beating the Odds
But exactly what are the odds that students like Bettie Elston expected to beat?
After thirty years of stagnant graduation rates, the numbers of students successfully completing high school has risen over the past decade. But black and Latino students continue to graduate at a much lower rate than their white and Asian peers. While 85% of white 9th graders go on to complete high school, only 76% of Latino students and 68% of African American students achieve the same distinction. But family income remains the largest predictor of high school completion and college enrollment: 81% of students from ‘wealthy’ families enroll in college, a figure that drops to 51% for those from low-income families.
We are inspired by those students that graduate high school and enroll in college, and we celebrate with them their ability to ‘beat the odds’. But we would suggest that the very idea that students of color and the socioeconomically disadvantaged must ‘beat the odds’ at all is to acknowledge the inequities ingrained in our public education system. Green Dot’s goal is more than supporting and encouraging individual students to ‘beat the odds’, but to change the odds for all students.
Champion of Change
For Jaime Ballesteros, a once-undocumented immigrant and now a teacher at Green Dot’s Ánimo College Preparatory Academy (ACPA) in South Los Angeles, Mrs. Obama’s words are self-evident. Last week, Ballesteros was one of just nine teachers from across the country honored by the White House at a “Champions of Change” event celebrating the achievements of undocumented individuals who became classroom leaders to inspire students and communities.
Born in the Philippines, Ballesteros came to America as a young boy under his father’s work visa. When his father was laid off, he became undocumented. Ballesteros finished high school with the support of other students and mentorship from teachers; helping him pursue his goal of a college education.
Ballesteros received his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status in spring of his junior year in college. After earning his B.A. from Drew University, he joined Teach for America and was hired by Green Dot in 2014. While teaching Chemistry at ACPA, he is pursuing a Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University.
“It’s my hope that all teachers become aware of the unique circumstances that undocumented students face and be able to offer the resources for these students when preparing for college,” he says. “Growing up, it would have made a big difference to know that an undocumented teacher shared the same background as me.”
Green Dot is proud to celebrate the accomplishments of Bettie Elston and Jaime Ballesteros, representing the extraordinary achievements that can be realized when personal determination meets a caring and supportive public school that nurtures individual talents and aspirations.