Story by Lyndsey Schley
Summit Education Initiative’s GradNation Community Summit brought more than 400 students, education professionals and community members to Quaker Station in Akron on Jan. 7.
Local student tells story of seeking education after dropping out
University of Akron Graduate Assistant David Delgado did not have the easiest upbringing in Wooster. He was one of six children his single mother was raising while putting herself through college and working a full-time job. Lack of money caused a lot of stress in the household and they often had to choose which utility to keep on.
David Delgado University of Akron Graduate Assistant
“A lot of the time we had kept the electricity, because you can cut a lot of corners with a microwave,” Delgado said. “I remember several occasions when to take a bath, to clean myself up for school, I would microwave bowls of water until they were boiling and pour them into the bathtub just so it would be lukewarm and I could tolerate it.”
He said because his mother was so busy, he often had to make his own choices, which he related to the principal of natural growth in sociology, his field of study. Unfortunately, he did not always make the best choices like doing his homework or behaving well with others.
“I had to call my own shots and they weren’t good ones most of the time,” Delgado said.
School counselors seemed to sense things were going wrong, but he did not want to talk about it to them, because he was afraid they might try to break up his family.
A combination of factors led to him dropping out of school. His family moved just out of his school district and he was transferred to a learning center 20 minutes away from his home. On top of this, he got in an accident while driving without insurance and lost his license. He had trouble getting rides to school and eventually was expelled for poor attendance.
His life continued on. He moved out and got a job at a grocery store and an apartment where he could walk to work. He had a daughter at around 19. He got married.
David W. James Superintendent of Akron Public Schools
However, as the years went on, he realized he would never be able to advance at his workplace despite his positive reviews and top scores on his aptitude tests because of his lack of education. He was also losing access to his daughter. That was when his wife urged him to take his GED and enroll in community college. He was resistant at first.
“The whole drive there, I’m still saying ‘They don’t just give people financial aid,’” he said. “’We’re wasting our time. We’re going to be in debt’ and every stupid excuse in the book. But we got there and they bent over backwards to get us to enroll.”
They both enrolled as pre-nursing students. After five years, he had a completely different perspective on education. He was there because he wanted to be and he got to choose what he was going to study. He decided to major in Sociology.
The department embraced him. He restarted the Sociology Club and became President. He says he loves the field so much that he reads about it in his free time.
“It’s incredible how different you can see the world you’re in, especially in education, when you want to be there,” Delgado said. “People react to you so much different and the opportunities become real once you realize what they can do for you and what they’re willing to do for you.”
He said he is lucky compared to other people who were in similar walks of life. Three of his friends have died from heroin overdoses. Four committed suicide. Two of his brothers have been in prison.
David Delgado University of Akron Graduate Assistant
“Your life choices are only as real as people make them for you,” Delgado said. “Explore what you have around you. Ask people what opportunities there are for you and if you don’t feel like those opportunities are there, you can also make them. People will help you do it.”
Delgado said that while his teachers’ and counselors’ efforts did not get to him when he was young, they still mattered and helped him get where he is now.
“Them always telling me ‘David, you’re bright. David, you’re intelligent, you just need to apply yourself,’ those words got in and they did eventually make a difference because they were telling me that I wasn’t a waste of time,” Delgado said. “So I had something to go off of and I eventually started believing in those chances that I had, those opportunities that I had to succeed.”
New York Times Bestselling Author Wes Moore
Moving forward to use what they learned
Participants in the Summit voted for the top three promises to work on. They chose effective education, safe places and caring adults.
In groups that consisted of a mixture of students and community members, they finished with a brainstorming session on ways to keep these promises.
After an hour of discussion time, each group submitted their ideas to be shared with everyone.
Some suggestions for the caring adult promise included having businesses give employees time off to mentor, holding classes on how to be a good parent or role model, and having time within school where students can meet with mentors.
Groups suggested that they could provide more safe places by having more effective police presence in neighborhoods, students uniting into a peacekeeping force to address safety issues within the school, and funding safe locations where people could gather and feel comfortable.
Suggestions for improving educational effectiveness included offering classes with an emphasis on soft skills, making staff culture more understanding and less punitive and providing equal opportunities across school districts.
Derran Wimer Summit Education Initiative Executive and Wes Moore
As they left the meeting, community members were asked to put their name tag into one of three baskets, each labeled with one of the promises. Wimer said he will use these names to reach out to attendees and form committees to help implement the ideas they discussed during the summit.
“We had a good event but really the measure of this is if we get somethings done as a result of the event,” Wimer said. “So that’s what we’ll do the next couple of the weeks so we can keep the momentum and go forward.”