Student Voices: A Step Closer to Achieving My Goal and Finding My Motivation

By Mario Castellanos

My name is Mario Castellanos and I am an 11th grader at Lighthouse Community Charter. I like to write down whatever pops into my head. In my free time I like to sit down and watch Netflix, and I am curious about many things like archeology and historical events. I’m interested in doing law enforcement in the near future as my career.

Two Schools, Two Worlds

In the past five years I’ve gone to three different schools. When I first moved into my new school Lighthouse Community Charter it took some time to get used to. At my old school they said we were all a family, but I was treated as if I wasn’t even part of the family. I felt like I was just an outsider that was temporarily there.

At my new school they say that we are a community and we should respect each other. Everyone in the community is different, everyone acknowledges each other. I’m more open here. At the other school, the classes were easy. Here, there are high expectations. With these new challenges, it makes things a bit harder for me, but the school staff also supports me to pursue my dreams.

College, College, College

In this new school all the teachers talk about is “college college college.” They never stop and they want us to be ready for it and they think we all want to go to college. When I first got here I didn’t know how the school worked. I thought if I turned in all of my work, I would be done. But there was more to it.

I started struggling with my classes because it was hard, but at the same time I was not interested in what they were teaching us. I wanted to learn history. The start of the world war, Napoleon, the American Revolution. At my old school, my history teacher taught me a lot. My grades went up, up, up, all As. When I was in that class I felt more alive, like I could get something from it. I wanted to learn archeology. If there’s a tunnel, I’ll go check it out. All I need is a flashlight and something to drink. I’m very creative. If you give me supplies, I will make something with it. I’m interested in the Rubix cube: how was it made? Why was it made? Who made it?

When class is over they give us homework of what we covered in class and I don’t want to do homework when I’m home. I want to forget about school for the day, but doing homework reminds me of school. I just want to be alone and relax and enjoy the time I have left for the day before I have to repeat the same process the next day over and over again until the weekend, when I can finally get some rest.

Getting to the Other Side

For the past two years I felt like school was making most of my life harder. I felt like school should be about what I wanted to learn but instead I felt forced to take classes of the school’s choosing. I didn’t have that kind of motivation for what they were teaching in class. But now that I’ve found my way, the tables have turned.

I’ve finally found my goal: to become an officer of the law. I want to be out there, I’m detailed, I see things other people don’t see, and I’m a helpful person. Since last year I’ve been thinking: after I’m done with high school, what will I study? What is my career going to be? What will I do after college? My mom told me I can’t join the army. I said, “how about a cop?” My mom said, “it’s a risk but I’ll let you do it.” My plan is to be a cop, and later an investigator. Now I feel I need to go to college. Now it’s about me wanting to go to college.

When I had my meeting with my parents, the principal, and teachers, I told them about my interest in law enforcement. The principal and teachers told me to ask another student about a program called the San Leandro Police Explorers program. A few weeks later I joined the program. In this program they teach you the lifestyle of a cop, what a cop does on a daily basis, and you get to feel how a cop learns and trains. You learn how they have their own little community.

Now that I have this dream, I don’t feel the burden anymore. I feel I’m finally doing something useful. In order to get to where I want to be, I have to get through school and get everything done. Once I graduate, it’s accomplished. I will either go to the police academy for two or four years or go to college and study there for four years. Now every time I go to class, do homework, or take a test, I know I am one step closer to achieving my goal.

Student Voices: My Evolution. Innocence, Confusion, Revelation.

By Michael Diaz

I am a student at Lighthouse Charter on the east side of Oakland, where I have lived my whole life so far. Working toward my future I have taken class as Youth Radio in downtown Oakland and have a job at Safeway to make some money to pay for my own equipment. I come from a loving family that supports my decisions. I have written poetry and been around music because of my family. I work to see myself excel as a producer in my future. You can check out more of my work at

Growing up in East Oakland, I often dealt with problems outside of my control.  Sometimes I thought I was the problem. Until I realized I wasn’t alone with these problems and found my way.


First day of Kindergarten at Redwood Heights Elementary.

I had lived in my grandma’s house with my family for most of my life, up until my uncle went berserk on us and we had to leave. Two months after that, following a short stay at a friend’s house, we got our own place on High Street. It was a small apartment and the neighbors were loud but I was closer to my friend’s houses so it worked out for me.

I was a different shade than most of the other kids, a darker shade, when I attended Redwood Heights Elementary School. I thought something was wrong with me when I would be called things by these lighter shade of kids; they really threw shade at me.

The tostadas and burritos I would eat at home were somehow wrong, according to these kids. I fumbled my words; my clothes were full of holes. Goodwill had a two-for- one deal and my jeans were ripped from playing in the dirt. They were big so I could one day grow into them, and I did after a couple years passed. There were other Mexican kids along with Black kids but they came and went, never staying for too long. These kids of color knew their culture, they were not trying to fit in like I was.

The White Mexican

Starting off the soccer season, just before I came to Lighthouse.

I felt how far away I really was from other kids who were supposedly “like me” when I came to Lighthouse Community Charter School and felt so out of place. I had painted a coat of white on my canvas when I was expected to have brown on it now. I was placed in a school where kids were a shade like me or darker, and spoke this language with a weird type of tongue.

I was expected to know Spanish when in reality I could barely speak English right, let alone spell words correctly. I saw them drinking Mexican candy, something I had never seen before. I hated hot sauce—still do.  We dressed the same, wore the same shoes, but we talked differently and went about ourselves differently. I was accepted for what I looked like, but not how I acted.

I felt alone everywhere I went, my parents would fight, I was failing school, I was good at nothing, I was still trying to fit in as best as I could instead of being branded that white Mexican, and I started having suicidal thoughts. I had started to give up because I felt that I was a mistake everywhere I turned.

Take My Hand

Me performing with Youth Speaks this year. I was sick that day, which is why I’m wearing a scarf.

The only thing I had really was singing. I remember at lunch I would fantasize being on a big stage singing songs by Maroon 5 and the Beatles, with millions of fans in front of me. Memorizing song lyrics came easy to me surprisingly; it was the only thing I would remember.

I remember a day back in middle school when I was just done. I had gotten another assignment back with an F. I was trying to think how I had messed up so badly and how I could have made things better but all the things I had tried never worked, even after revising three times. I had started to just give up completely; I even skipped playing basketball that day.

After my mom picked me up from school I was done, tired, stressed out, and just felt dumb. I wanted to go home and cry again. But I remember hearing on the radio lyrics to a fast paced song that rhymed and sounded amazing to me. I heard the words “I’M NOT AFRAID” and my ears opened up like Dumbo’s and I wanted to listen more. What followed soon after amazed me even more, “TAKE MY HAND.”

I was shook from this because I felt I wasn’t alone. Eminem was saying fuck the world and be the change you want for yourself, and fuck everyone else who is against you with an open hand. No matter how badly you messed up, it was up to you on how you were going to change it for the next time. I remember going home and buying the song for my ipod nano and listening to it everyday before and after school to know I had a chance to change it all.

I had come to peace with how people had treated me and that feeling of abandonment had left with every Eminem song I would listen to. With time, I became ever more wise to let more people in on my life so I didn’t need to be alone. I ended up gaining a new sister, her name is Pia. She listened to my story at the time and I listened to hers and realized we came from similar backgrounds. I felt blessed because I lasted long enough to find my source of strength, rap. I started writing my own stories in poems and dealing with my problems in a healthier way than just bottling it up for years. I started to become happy in my new home and not only blended in, but was branded a nickname I feel fits pretty well:


Watch These Oakland Students Tell Us How to Understand and End Gun Violence

About the Author: Sophia Sobko is a former teacher and current graduate student at UC Berkeley.

​Last Friday evening E14 Gallery in Downtown Oakland buzzed as 7th and 8th graders from Lighthouse Community Charter School shared their research, artwork, and writing on gun-related violence in Oakland. The exhibit was the culmination of a year of research and creative production exploring the causes, consequences, and potential solutions of gun violence in their community and beyond.

Student ambassadors spread across the spacious gallery, leading visitors through the exhibit’s many stations: research and data, history of the 2nd amendment, narratives, art campaigns, potential solutions, and participant response. Student speakers moved between English and Spanish, sharing statistics and personal stories about gun violence with one goal: to educate others and move them to action.

The Predator, The Snake, and The Thief; Why I Couldn’t Wait to Get Away from Paradise

IMG_0287My name is Jeremias Arevalo. I am a junior at Lighthouse Community Charter School. I have always enjoyed writing in the forms of poetry, scripture and memoirs. I hope that my work shows you an insight into the life of a mixed-race, 17-year-old growing up in a turbulent time, in a turbulent place. I love the Bay Area and California so I hope to go to college in Santa Cruz or Berkeley. I don’t yet know of what I want to do with my adult life but hopefully it will be full of misadventures and success, so when I am an old man I can write my stories down to share with the world.


Snakes in the jungle, predator in the streets, thief in my home.

All were gathered under one roof and called me nephew. Guatemala is a wonderful place for a third world country: drinking age is never enforced; white folks are treated as walking banks, and reggaeton is the soundtrack to the lustful poverty.

The innocent boy visiting the jungle, the home of his father. If only the father was more of a wordsmith and could weave the wild acts committed in the depths of night to something not so shocking. Father told him one day, and quite by accident, he morphed him.

I was 15 during these events. My father called me into the guest room back in Oakland, a small quiver in his voice. I knew it was serious. I mentally prepped my mind for the worst. Divorce? Death? Adoption? What could it be?! I surely wasn’t prepared for what was said next.

My father began the compilation of stories about my uncles that I wish were fiction; new truths, new light shone on them like the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass on an anthill. One of them I didn’t know very well, one I despised and the last I loved. My family always branded the motto: Family is the purest thing and blood is thicker than water. Apparently ineptitude in life is thicker than blood.

The Predator

IMG_1683My father’s body language prepared me for the tale of the The Predator.

I dare not speak or write his name. He was a man of god, yet he committed such deadly sins, absolved of whatever promises he made to those he preached.

As a male lion entering his new pack, he devoured his children. The husks left behind, sacrificed to Moloch. My poor cousins. When my father told me what he did to them, I was in shock. That my younger cousins were raped by their father, while my aunty knew and didn’t do anything about it made me question the sanity of my bloodline.

This experience changed my opinion on family forever. I could no longer trust my most active muscle of blood to carry me through life, for it had been bitten by the predator.

The Snake

IMG_1681The snake arrived at my house the third day of my vacation in Guatemala. As usual he decided to slither into the house without us knowing.

“Hola guicho,” my dad said with a blatant air of disdain in his voice in spying the snake.

“Hi tio,” I said nervously, looking at my father expectantly.

“Holassss Jeremiassss,” the snake replied, engulfing me in the stench of alcohol while showing his yellowed fangs and flashing his vertical pupils at me, pot belly jiggling from his last meal.

“How are you? You have a lot of girls huh?” The snake interrogated.

“I’m fine tio, and no, no girl yet.”

The gruffness of the exchanges that occurred between my father and my uncle showed the true sides of the two: one a protective father, the other a slithering duplicitous reptile. My uncle then started begging my father for money to settle this enormous debt he had. Problem is he wouldn’t tell us how he racked up this debt. My father shooed him away after a while and he slithered out hissing his opinions on us under his breath.

The Thief

Enlight2He is Elder. My favourite uncle. Elder would take me on his motorcycle with his adorable baby son. We would walk down the Guatemalan streets and talk about life. Struggles, pain, pleasure. He was the only uncle I could talk with about serious topics such as family, love, and the types of people to worry about, the only uncle who would take me seriously. But bombas of crushing truths did not cease with the Predator or the Snake.

“You can’t talk to him anymore. If he comes close I’ll kill him.”

My father was in a fury.

“Elder has been stealing money from the people of Morales. That’s us. And the cartel. Jeremias, I  know you love him but I forbid you to talk to him or be around him. He may not be alive for much longer. I’m sorry.”

Elder’s job with the municipal government was corrupt. The job I would hear him talk about so much was actually his way of laundering money from taxes for himself and the mayor. Now he was being hunted like an animal.

Love: Is it the strongest bond above anything else?

I questioned whether I should still love my uncle after I found out that he is a completely different person when he’s not around me. Two personalities, double trouble, two lives, two polarities. One I activate with my presence, the other evident without me. Golden-toothed smile begging for family, missing thumb, broken spirit. The posture of a man exposed for his true self. No security, not even in life.

*     *     *     *

I was leaving Guatemala with the same amount of luggage, but tons more mental baggage.

I couldn’t wait to get away from the poisonous paradise. When we finally arrived back home there was a silent tension about the desecrated image of my kin.

My brother didn’t need to know; some secrets are best kept in the dark, where they came from.

I thought that seeing my family would make me feel more complete. Instead, the realities of man, the cruelest animal, were shown in my blood.