School
"I was taught that life's a race and there's only one winner"
The bench I was sitting on was a little squeaky. It felt extremely uncomfortable to move, even the slightest bit as it would start making noises like that of a rat’s tantrum at night. So I tightened the grip on my pencil, trying not to move my body. I did not want to be the one to disrupt the exam. The room was quiet; there was a pin-drop silence. If you listened closely, you could hear the students exhaling and inhaling nervously. It was the first exam of the year and I needed to show my teacher that I was the best student in the first-grade class. It wasn’t the first time I strived to be above my classmates. Even during summer vacations, when the heat would be so intense that it made people feel as if they were standing a few inches away from the sun, I would be studying. Being ranked first was the only way I could have proven my intelligence in Bangladesh. All my life, I was taught that life’s a race and there’s only one winner. When I moved to the US in 2009, I still had the same mentality. Even when no one else wanted to take part in a race, I ran anyway. Whether it was a science test or a class discussion, I studied the previous night like my life depended on it. Although my school environment changed, I did not. The Bengali culture did not leave me. People might say that striving to be the best is not healthy, but while I was in the race, for example, I learned how to draw. I was able to acquire the skills of the SAT. I will always be trying to give my parents something to be proud of.
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As I nervously walked into class on the first day, the teacher instantaneously told us in his deep, loud voice to take a seat and get our notebooks. As my eyes snuck a peak around me, I could see the eagerness of learning in each student. While the breeze of a robust atmosphere was gently blowing through me, I was having a flashback to my old memories. Everything was totally different in my previous school. I still recall getting struck by a sword- like stick for making a silly excuse for unfinished homework or for leaving books at home. I used to attend school only because my parents wanted me to. In the new school, my parents left me to live in a dorm by myself at the age of 11. I felt lonely and scared of the new environment. Coming from a small village in Bangladesh, where modern education was given less importance than traditional education and farming, my uncle was a pioneer in helping to develop a cultured society. My father believed that I should have an advanced education. I challenged myself to adapt. My friends at the new school taught me to be emotionally stronger and independent. I felt motivated to study hard, realizing how much sacrifice my parents were making for me financially. My goal was to progress into the advanced class. One day, in the middle of a lesson, the principal entered and told me to follow him and bring all my stuff. My heart was pounding and my hands were flooding with sweat, thinking that I did something wrong. Instead, he invited me to enter the advanced classroom. I was boiling with pride inside. And now, after my family moved to the United States of America in 2013 seeking an even better learning environment for me and my siblings, I value education more than ever. The mentality to accept challenges that I built starting from the sixth grade has taught me to never look back. Breaking the language barrier in this country, and having the boost of “I can do better,” I am confidently heading towards the Everest.
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I was four years old when I attended my first day of kindergarten, in Ecuador. Tia Meche, my dark-haired kindergarten teacher, was at the door receiving her students with jokes to cheer up the crying children. I was not one of them. For me, this class had a sense of peace. One day, several years ago, my dad decided to come to the United States, seeking a better life. In my heart, there was an empty space that belonged to him. He was providing money for us, but it was still not enough. My mom began to work, washing other people’s clothes. I tried to pitch in by skipping school and going to the streets to sell bracelets that I learned to make from a free course. Nobody forced me to do this. I felt good that I could buy food and not let my family sleep with nothing in their stomachs. One day, after school, my mom opened the door -- but without her usual smile. She said she needed to speak to me and my siblings. “I talked to your dad,” she said. “It hurts that I can’t give you a better life….Going to the United States, you guys will have different opportunities.” In May of 2012, my siblings and I came to the US. After seven years, I was going to have my dad in front of me. My mother stayed behind. Now I’m a senior in high school. I am working hard and I am not giving up on me. Selling bracelets taught me that you have to fight for what you want. I started taking challenges and following my dreams to become a pediatrician and bring the rest of my family here. Every morning I take the bus, I look at the sky and think about my family. I am here for them. In Boston, I have met people who are like my second family. I have recovered the happiness I felt when I was back in kindergarten.
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February of 2013 was a time that my life radically changed. It was my first day of middle school in Boston. My dad and aunt were by my side. The bell rang and that was a sign that class was about to start. As students were walking in the hallway, I lost sight of my family. That was the moment I realized I was all by myself in a totally different world. As I looked around my classroom, one of the students asked: “Are you from Dominican Republic?” I didn’t understand. Then she asked me in Spanish. Hearing this gave me a little more confidence. Yes, I am from DR. The class started and I felt an urge to go to the bathroom. But I didn’t know how to ask permission. I started to feel a desperation that took power over me and almost took out a tear. I spent what felt like hours in a class trying to learn English. The teacher knew how to speak Spanish but didn’t want to. I didn’t know how to say a single word in English. Every minute in her classroom made me feel tortured. This pushed me to learn English on my own. During the summer, I went with my aunt every day to work. I heard people talking. I wrote all the words I could understand on a little piece of paper and translated them when I got home. When I started high school, I was assigned homework that I didn’t know how to do. But my teacher helped me with it. I started to feel supported. That feeling self-motivated me to keep up the hard work. I began to think about my future goals: go to a four-year college and then obtain a master’s degree so that I can get a job as a psychologist that I will enjoy and also help my family. I now know that no matter what challenges I have in life, I can overcome them.        
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School
Trying to Stem the Tide of Male-Dominated Science Careers
Anthony Ruiz, 18, is enrolled in advanced mathematics classes for his senior year at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math & Science. Although fearful of his overloaded schedule, Ruiz has one goal in mind. He wants to become an engineer. "Career choices involving science, technology,  engineering, and mathematics together account for [a lot of] the paying jobs around the world,” says Ruiz. While back in time artisanship was a major source of job flow, art is now put to the side, and STEM has taken over. The city is currently working to incre ase middle school students’ exposure to STEM learning. For now, many college-bound students are making their life choices based on the profitability of STEM pathways. Kripa Thapa, 18, from Roslindale, wants to become a nurse but says the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields would not deter her from pursuing a different career arc. "If you want to be a doctor, you can -- men or women,” she says. “It’s just what you want and what you work for."
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