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:


Graduate Stories from Lighthouse’s College Declaration Day-Believe in Yourself, Work hard and You can Do It

Brianna wanted to drop out, Isabel didn’t think she could go to college, Brandon was flunking, Diana didn’t know any English, and DJ couldn’t read.  Now they are all off to college, marked by a recent emotional celebration on College Declaration Day.

Staff, alumni, families and graduating seniors at Lighthouse Community Charter School came together to celebrate their time together, growth and new beginnings. The Class of 2017, brand new college t-shirts in hand, sat together surrounded by their families, teachers and administrators, and fellow students.

More than half of these graduating seniors have held jobs throughout high school, six have had to repeat at least one year of school, and most have faced systemic problems like poverty and racism. And yet, of the 49 seniors in Lighthouse’s Class of 2017, 46 were admitted to 4-year colleges and universities. One student is pursuing a career at California Highway Patrol, one is taking a gap year with plans to attend college in Fall 2018, nine will be attending community college, 14 will be attending UC schools, and 25 will be attending CSUs.

For these students, the road to college, career, and discovering their passions has not been a straight one. In addition to announcing their college choices, the seniors passed on advice to anxious 11th graders, curious 8th graders, and squirmy 6th graders who shifted in their seats: Don’t fear rejection. Don’t set your mind on one dream school; apply to many. Believe in yourself, even when you feel hopeless. Ask for help. If I can do it, you can do it.

And Lighthouse students have had success in college relative to their peers, with 40% graduating from college in 5 years.  A number that starkly contrasts with the depressing numbers touted in the Oakland Promise for Oakland students in general.   They state that for every 100 Oakland students who start high school: • 67 will graduate. • 46 will start college. • 10 will graduate from college within five years.

Here is a closer look at some of Lighthouse Community Charter School Class of 2017:

Isabel Cuevas (L), SJSU and Neeki Bashiri (R), UCB

Isabel Cuevas: “This is a big step toward my future because there’s been times I’ve doubted I could attend college, and now I have hope. My soccer coaches helped me get here.”

Graduating seniors pose with their college t-shirts.

Brianna Kakos, Humboldt State University

“My freshman year I wanted to drop out of high school and my senior year I wasn’t going to apply to college at all. I told my grandma and at first she was a little disappointed, but she said she’ll be proud if I graduate high school and that I should try out college, even for a year. It was really nice to know she was supportive, because I am the first in my family to graduate from high school. My classmates encouraged me as well, and my brother, who is graduating too. When I told them I wasn’t applying they asked me what my plans were, what I was going to do. They really encouraged me.

My passion is fighting for social justice. I’m excited to go to Humboldt State because I got to visit their campus and it needs someone to advocate for underrepresented minorities. I met people from the African American Center for Excellence, the Latinx center, the Multicultural center, but there’s still so much that needs to be done.

My advice to others is don’t be discouraged because I didn’t see myself here but now I am really excited.”

Isela Chavarria, UC Davis

Isela Chavarria: “I’m making my parents proud. They have been my role models to become the doctor I want to be. I want to tell people that it’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do yet, because that’s what college is for. You should work hard to make your dreams come true.”

Back row: Brandon A. Segundo, Sonoma State; Diana Rodriguez, UC Davis; Daniel (DJ) Acosta, SF state Front row: Brianna Kakos, Humboldt State University

 Brandon A. Segundo: “I came to Lighthouse from a tradition school where ratios were 30:1. Here it was more like 20:1. The teachers here were closer to me. At first I got into trouble, got suspended, was flunking. But my parents had wanted me to go to this school and I wanted to show them that I was here for a reason. By the end of my freshman year I got a 3.8. Junior year, a 3.9  Now I’m planning to do nursing at Sonoma State.”

Diana Rodriguez: “I’ve been at Lighthouse since kindergraden. I didn’t know any English when I came because I spoke Spanish. I still remember how Alex P’s mom translated for me. Now I’m fluent. Lighthouse doesn’t separate us based on language skills, but integrates us into better things. When I tore my ACL Lighthouse had packets of work for me ready as soon as I got out of surgery. I learned I could do things and keep moving on. Last year I started a Japanese Anime club. This year we raised enough money to go to the Anime convention in San Jose.”

Daniel (DJ) Acosta: ”Lighthouse is a home for me. I was always in Special Ed, people would pull me out to teach me how to read. Ms. Kretschmar, my fifth grade teacher, knew my brother and knew about me. She gave me that push that made me love school and that year I learned how to read. Next year in sixth grade I hit the ground running. I didn’t have perfect grades but I had that motivation. My passion was Art and I decided to go to art school to pursue it with the momentum that lighthouse gave me. After that I spent a year in Berlin. That year our principal, Mr. Sexton, passed away. I felt homesick. He had said that there is always room for me here. I was so taken by the caliber of people here that I came back to Lighthouse to finish high school. This is the best year I have ever had.”


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.

Jordan 4s: A Trip to a Better Me

By Ashley Mendez

Back to El Salvador 

I made my way to the hammock that had all of the colors of the rainbow on it. I laid down on it and saw the branches of the coconut trees dancing back and forth from the breeze that moved west. The cows were mooing and the birds were whistling. I felt lighter than a plastic bag because the weight of my daily responsibilities back home weren’t on my shoulders anymore.

I closed my eyes halfway, and thoughts started to roam through my head.  “What are my friends doing? Are they going to Mariela’s quince?” All I wanted to do was catch up with my friends. I was desperate to get Wi-Fi and get on social media. I slowly opened my eyes as I stood up to kill my boredom and explore the rest of the area around my grandma’s house. This was my first time back in El Salvador since I was a kid.

The first thing I saw was a man in a green cap and rainboots who blended right in with the corn crops. He pushed his way out of the compact space and walked toward the wired fence to take a sip of water. It was my uncle Milton who worked in weather that felt like 200 degrees. “How does he do it?” I thought. All I wanted to do all morning was to dive into a bucket of ice and now he was out in the heat with long sleeves on. I guessed that it was to protect his arms from the pesticides and beaming sun.

Balls vs. Bottle Caps  

I made my way back to the house and smelled the burnt wood coming from my grandma’s kitchen. Grandma didn’t have a stove so she had to use her resources to prepare meals. “Vente a comer, mija,” she demanded in her soft sweet voice. My grandma was always on time with meals and always served more than we could eat. The fried plantains with sour cream satisfied my hunger and attracted flies to the table. I was waving them away when my grandma said, “Vamos a la tienda.” I immediately went back inside to change. I left the tank top that I had on and changed into shorts.

“Should I wear my sandals or my Jordans?” I thought to myself.

I brought five pairs of shoes with me to El Salvador. With this small portion of my collection in front of me, I felt as if picking the right pair was the most crucial decision ever. After going with my white Jordan 4s, I hopped into the back of my Tio’s red pickup truck on our way to the city.

I held on tightly as the hot wind blew my hair away from my face. I awed at the volcanoes. El Salvador was dipped in green. Tall trees, grass and crops.  We passed by the monument of San Vicente. The bells from the church were ringing because the clock reached 12pm.

We drove for about a minute or two before the car made a complete stop. We parked in front of a school where I saw kids playing soccer with plastic water bottle caps during recess.

Their celebrations were the same as mine whenever I scored a goal, even though they didn’t have a real soccer ball. The whistle blew near my ears, leaving me deaf for about a minute till I was able to hear properly again. The kids paused to hear the screechy directions given from the megaphone. They ran inside, like birds in a flock.

My uncle helped my grandma down the truck and said he was going to stay and watch the car. My parents’ old stomping grounds were filled with gang violence so I made sure to turn my head and watch my back every once in awhile.

The Boy Without Shoes

After walking through a long line of vendors selling shampoo, vegetables, and soda in plastic bags, we made a short stop. “Me da una libra de queso por favor,” my grandma said. I looked down at my shoes and noticed a small dirt stain on the midsole. I licked my finger and raised my foot to clean them. Even though I scrubbed the living life out of the shoe, the chocolate colored spot remained.

I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder and saw an underfed six year old who held a transparent bag full of tomatoes.

“Compreme una corra,” he pleaded.

I examined him up and down and noticed that he had no shoes on.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Earlier, I couldn’t even enjoy my time to relax, while this minor skipped school to be able to survive. Earlier, I was cleaning my two hundred dollar shoes when somebody else didn’t even own socks. This couldn’t be true.

I was always too materialistic and had not considered that people had it worse. After seeing my blank stare, he walked away and went about his day. I wanted to help the young boy, but I knew that giving him money wasn’t going to better the situation. I also knew that the slim face I saw could have been me.

I still think about this trip a lot. My grandma, my uncle, the little boy with no shoes. I have become more observant. Recently I saw a mom with a little girl selling strawberries and cherries on the street and was reminded of the struggles my people face. Sometimes I lose my motivation, but then I am reminded that this is why I keep going. I have to take advantage of the opportunities I have and to offer a voice for those who are unheard.

About the Author

My name is Ashley Mendez and I am a junior at Lighthouse Community Charter School. I want to attend a prestigious university like UC Berkeley. I have never published my writing before so this is brand new to me. I hope that my writing encourages you to reflect on your personal life and goals. Sometimes we get  so caught up in our daily responsibilities that we forget how to enjoy life. Sometimes we are too concerned over materialistic things that we forget that others lack basic necessities. Follow me on the journey that has allowed me to grow as an individual and be centered on my goal of giving back to others.