Finding Where I Belong and Helping My Peers do the Same

By Leslie C., Class of 2022 Senior at Ombudsman South – as featured on the Chicago Public Schools Blog

It might not seem like a lot, but one of my proudest accomplishments over the past year was helping to create my school’s “meme wall,” a collage of various memes that relate to homework, tests, and other parts of our school experience. Whenever students walk by the wall, I always hear them say: “This one is so funny,” or “That one is so true.” There’s one that pokes fun at math teachers that I personally relate to. Knowing that I played a part in creating a more welcoming school environment makes me smile. 

This wall means even more when you consider where I was a few years ago. I did not have a good freshman year. I felt left out of everything and nothing seemed to be going right for me. In a way, I felt like my previous school turned its back on me. Now, as a senior, I’m at a new school and feel like everything has changed. 

I’m loving my English class and am ready to dive into The Scarlet Letter. I’m looking forward to starting a dance team. Over the past few years, I’ve grown so much. I’ve matured. I appreciate the little things more now. And, if I could go back in time, I would tell myself that everything was going to turn out okay in the end. 

One of the differences I noticed right away at my new school was that the teachers were completely centered on their students. I’ve never seen any teachers care as much as my current teachers. They’re not just focused on helping the best students succeed; they support all of us. Everyone I can think of is just amazing. 

My teachers have really inspired me to become a leader as well. I already had some of those qualities because I have four younger siblings. During the period where we learned from home, I had to be on top of them to help them focus and assist them with their homework at night.

The remote period was actually when I made the transition to my new school. My new teachers were so supportive online, and, now that I’m back five days each week, I feel like their positive impact has tripled its effect on me. 

I displayed my leadership by taking on a summer internship this year at my school. I have become very passionate about helping ensure that all students have equal access to education, so I spent my time calling my friends and encouraging them to re-enroll. It means the world to me that I was able to help so many students take advantage of the opportunity to continue their education. 

I’ve also been helping out with translation, both during my internship and beyond. We have a current student who doesn’t know English very well, so, when I don’t have class, I go with him to his classes and try to help him with whatever he needs. 

I don’t know exactly what the future will hold for me after I graduate, but I know that I want to continue helping others move toward the path to success. I can see myself pursuing a career either in criminal justice or the medical field for that very reason. 

Life can throw a lot of situations our way where it becomes very easy for us to box ourselves in. That was me for a very long time, and, when we don’t allow ourselves to be who we truly are, it’s easy to feel pushed aside and hard to find a sense of belonging or purpose. Now that I’ve made that leap, I feel joyful, energetic, and, best of all, free. 

A bookworm at heart, Leslie says that the best book that she’s ever read is Lolita. She encourages younger high school students to build relationships with other students who will push them to be successful both inside and outside of the classroom.