My name is Rosa Ramos and I am 20 years old and a junior at Providence College. The question I often get is: “How did a Providence School District student, a first-generation immigrant from the Dominican Republic, make it into a prestigious Catholic school?”
Well let me tell you that it was NOT easy, however thanks to the relentless encouragement and support of several individuals from as early as elementary school, I not only made it into PC, but am on a mission to share my story in ways that I hope will inspire others to believe it to see it.
I still remember the days of sitting in the classroom without understanding a single word that came out of my teacher or my peers’ mouths. Looking back I never imagined myself where I am today. I told myself that English just wasn’t for me and that I would never be able to catch up with the other students in my classroom.
And I believed it—until my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Ed German [pictured right, alongside fellow Providence Public School graduates Alejandro Claudio, myself, and Leslie Feliz] made accommodations for me and several other students who did not speak English. I remember sitting in a round table with these students, and most important I remember Mr. German’s face, full of optimism and hope that learning of the language would take place. And it did.
By the end of 6th grade I was able to speak and communicate in English like never before. My favorite part was asking to go the bathroom in English for the first time, I did it with a serious face and Mr. German was there smiling from ear to ear and as I walked to the bathroom I smiled. It was such a small step but for me and Mr. German it was big. I not only experienced learning a new language while in Mr. German’s class, but with him it went beyond the classroom. I went on my first trip to the zoo and to the museum, just a few examples of this. I am so grateful for these experiences, as my parents would not have been able to expose me to them otherwise.
I believe that having someone who spoke my native language and shared a similar background was key to my success. Mr. German was not only a teacher; he was a mentor who would continue to play a very important role in my life 8 years later. During my time in his classroom, as well as the rest of my secondary career in the Providence school system, he held me at the highest of all expectations. I was always eager to learn and read and just take advantage of my education, because I knew that if I failed I had someone who believed in me to disappoint.
I also benefitted from a great role model at home: my father. He would constantly say “tu siempre vas a estar 10 pasos detrás del resto,” which translates to “you are always going to be 10 steps behind everyone else.” This advice did not resonate with me at first, but once I understood what my father’s words meant, I became fearful of failure and in ways that made me want to challenge myself more. My father’s words were not meant to scare me, but rather to prepare me for what was to come, to ready my charge to own my future and not passively submit to it. They were a reminder that I was an immigrant and a person of color who lacked the opportunities of those who have been here for much longer or who were simply privileged due to the color of their skin. I was automatically at a disadvantage – if I allowed it.
My mother also played a significant role in my success. She moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1999. She lived here alone, working low wage factory jobs in order to save and eventually bring my sisters, my father and I over to join her. She always told me that her daily wish was to see her daughters do better than her. My mother’s determination, work ethic, and devotion to family speaks volumes about the kind of person, mother and Christian she is. I want to do better and, knowing my role in granting her this wish, I am inspired to push myself harder in all that I do.
All of the advice, love, and hard work of role models and mentors like the ones I mentioned above pushed me to challenge myself. I was very active in my community of Providence, as well as in my high school. From testifying at the State House on education policies, to campaigning against tobacco through the Mayor’s office, taking a college course at PC as a sophomore in high school, to interning at the State House for RI Senator Juan Pichardo, I made the best out of the very few resources and even fewer opportunities available to students of the urban education system.
It’s a wonder, looking back at the story of what could have been and comparing it to the story of what IS now. In spite of the great progress I made as a 6th grade immigrant who spoke no English, turned AP Language and AP Literature student less than six years later, the system labeled me “not good enough” and put me on a career path where high school was as far as I would go. My standardized NECAP scores further substantiated this forecast and removed college from my radar.
I am grateful for my love for learning that is deeply rooted on my experiences in Mr. German’s classroom and from the support of my parents and many great individuals who believed in me, no matter the hurdles that stood in my way. I LOVE to learn – in and out of the classroom. Today, as I ready for my junior year at Providence College, and the GPA I have to show for it, I can proudly declare that NECAP dead wrong.
Let me close with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that keeps me moving forward. May it inspire the same for you.