If this were an east coast prep school, we might say that it’s all about school ties—alumni of a prestigious institution making certain that valuable educational and social experiences are shared with people “just like them” (meaning others already targeted for rich and challenging schooling in preparation for their next school tie, the university). Well, we’re not on the east coast, and ATDP isn’t a prep school, but two fifth graders had just such a “school tie” experience. This past summer, two students from Los Angeles’ 109th Street Elementary School traveled all the way from L.A. to ATDP’s Elementary Division in Point Richmond. For three weeks, the two girls, fifth graders Esmeralda Landeros and Ceily Velasquez, left their family and friends for the Bay Area, where they had never been before.
How did they end up 400 miles from home? It was thanks in large part to the Herculean efforts of their fourth grade teacher, Ryan Maquiñana. An ATDP alum himself, Ryan fondly remembered his days on the Berkeley campus. “Ever since I was little, it was my dream to go to Cal,” he recalled. “Taking [ATDP] classes on campus definitely gave me the confidence that I could do it, that I really belonged at such a place.”
After ATDP and high school, Ryan fulfilled his dream of going to Cal and then joined Teach for America. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” he explained. Ryan taught fourth grade for four years at the 109th Street Elementary, where he worked hard to make a difference in his students’ lives.
During a visit to the Berkeley campus, Ryan found himself strolling by the ATDP office in Tolman Hall, recalling his own ATDP experience. “It sparked something in my brain,” said Ryan. “I thought, ‘Why not bring the same opportunity to my kids?'” He talked to his former ATDP Psychology teacher (and faculty director) Frank Worrell and ATDP staffer Herlinda Tin and arranged to give the ATDP experience to his students in Los Angeles. Of his many worthy candidates, Ryan selected two students whom he felt could best “handle the academic rigor of ATDP” and who had “the mental toughness” to leave home for a month to come to Berkeley.
Ultimately, the two fifth graders, Esmeralda and Ceily, were selected. Before they left L.A., Ryan gave them some advice, addressing both the great times and the challenges at ATDP. “I didn’t want to scare them, but I had to be honest with them,” he said. “It wasn’t going to be easy. They’d have to deal with the challenge of ATDP [classes], plus they were going to be away from home.” But Ceily and Esmeralda were ready for the challenge, and they made their way to the Bay Area (where they stayed with Ryan’s parents) to take ATDP’s Anatomy and Physiology course.
To ease Ceily and Esmeralda’s transition to their home away from home, ATDP’s Director, Nina Gabelko, and Tech Maven and Mentor Lloyd Nebres arranged for the girls to meet up with the children of other ATDP parents, Ricardo and Ana Gonzalez, who come from the Central Valley each summer so their three children can attend ATDP’s Elementary Division. For his first year at ATDP, at age twelve, Ricardo came to Berkeley alone, where he stayed with an older Quaker family for the summer. Though he had a wonderful time in his ATDP classes, Ricardo felt lonely as the only student from the Central Valley. When the summer concluded, he recalled, “They asked me what would make it better next year and I said, ‘To have friends come along.'” The following summers, other Central Valley students joined Ricardo at ATDP, and the Coalinga-Huron-Avenal (CHA) House tradition was born. Even after he graduated high school and left ATDP, Ricardo served as a CHA House advisor for two summers, helping other children from the Central Valley make the transition to Berkeley.
Ricardo’s ties to ATDP run even deeper. All three of his brothers—Javier, Eduardo, and Raul—are also ATDP alums, and all but Eduardo have also taught mathematics at ATDP. Ricardo’s wife, Ana Villanueva Gonzalez, mentored and tutored ATDP students, including her brother who came from L.A. to attend, and who is now a teacher in the Bay Area.
Ricardo and Ana’s three children attend ATDP because the family knows “they’ll have educational opportunities that they can’t have in their own district. [We send them] for their own enrichment.” Ricardo explained that for his children, the whole experience of Elementary Division—the new school, the classmates, the Bay Area—”is all completely new to them.” Because his whole family relocates from the Central Valley to the Bay Area for a month, Ricardo’s children experience many of the same things that Esmeralda and Ceily encountered trekking all the way from Los Angeles, “though we’re not coming from quite so far away,” Ricardo noted. “I think that [the similar experience] is why Nina put us together. She said, ‘These kids are coming from L.A., they don’t know anyone. Can you please make them feel welcome?”
And make them feel welcome the Gonzalez family certainly did. They met up frequently with Ryan’s students during the three weeks of Elementary Division. The family’s first-born, Anais, one year older than Esmeralda and Ceily, mentored the girls. Said Ricardo, “[Her mother and I] told her to make sure they felt welcome, and she definitely did.” The Gonzalez children remained on campus after their morning classes, and Esmeralda and Ceily came early for their afternoon classes to have a family lunch together. Gaby and Javier Gonzalez, Ricardo’s brother and sister-in-law, also brought their children to the family lunch and everyone played together.
And why did Ricardo go through all this trouble for students he hadn’t even met? “Because Nina told me to!” he joked. “No, really, I want to make sure that everyone who comes to the program has a good experience.” In his first year at ATDP, Ricardo did well academically, but he explained, “It can be sort of lonely with no friends [in a new place].” He didn’t want Ceily and Esmeralda to have the same feeling. “I really liked ATDP,” he noted, “but I think it’s better to [stay with] kids your own age; you can both go to the program.” Ultimately, Ricardo said, “I just want the kids to have a good time.”
Thanks to the support and generosity of the Maquiñana and Gonzalez families, Esmeralda and Ceily had a very good time at ATDP last summer and are eager to return next year. “They loved it,” Ryan said of his students’ experience. “Obviously, they were nervous and anxious at first, being away from their families. But they handled it really well and they were able to feed off each other. They’re best friends. For them it was kind of like an adventure.”
Both girls thrived in ATDP’s challenging academic environment. “They exceeded my expectations,” Ryan said happily. “They came home, did all their homework, looked stuff up on the Internet … they made me really proud! They had two excellent teachers, Paul Bruno and Patty Holman, and as the days went on, their confidence grew.”
The girls agreed that while they were initially apprehensive about leaving home, but they ultimately had a great summer. “I had a lot of fun,” Ceily said of her ATDP experience. “The classes were more challenging and advanced than anything I have had before. It was kind of scary being out of L.A. for the first time, but I got used to it and it was a great experience. Thank you to everyone for helping us finally visit Cal.”
As Ceily and Esmeralda’s experience proved, having a supporting network of people who have gone through similar experiences can be invaluable in a new environment. In the Maquiñana and Gonzalez families, the girls found people with whom they had a common experience, other students who had come to ATDP from far away for many years, and who always had an amazing time. Thanks to their hard work, mental toughness, and the support of their families and teachers, Ceily and Esmeralda made the most of their ATDP opportunity. And it definitely didn’t hurt that, despite being 400 miles from home, they were still surrounded by friends.
Ceily and Esmeralda also saw the long-term outcome for other students who worked hard and aimed high. Their former teacher, Ryan, is presently mid-way through his first year of law school at UC Davis. Ricardo is a computer engineer and Berkeley alum; his wife, Ana, also a Berkeley alum, currently teaches high school. And as for Ricardo’s brothers, Javier Gonzalez, a Yale grad, is a middle school principal (as well as a former mayor of Huron); his wife, Gaby, is a high school teacher. Eduardo Gonzalez, a Brown University grad, is a school board member, dance troupe leader, and tech specialist. Eduardo’s wife is also an ATDP alum, and soon his children will be old enough to attend ATDP. Raul Gonzalez, a Davis and SF Art Institute grad, has taught Algebra I at ATDP for the past two years and is a specialist in computer graphics.