The Price of Education

By Natalia Bayona

I attended a Spanish mass at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Central Boulder Sunday afternoon and spoke, for the subsequent hour, with Mexican-American patrons who shifted my perspective on education.

Santos Fernandez, 42, lives in Longmont and maintains the church facilities. He praised the quality of education at his daughter’s school, Silver Creek High, with some exceptions. She’s the outstanding Hispanic student of the semester right now, Fernandez said, because “she’s the only [Hispanic] one there actually.”

I found that for many in Boulder County’s Mexican-American community, education is — and has always been — a luxury. Traditionally, financial security was more prized than the gift of teaching in Mexico.

Mikaela, 42, lives in Longmont and has five children in school. She thinks the biggest problem is in changing parents’ mentality.

“All the schools in Boulder County have after-school programs,” Mikaela said. “It’s amazing and it’s sad because we see a lot of parents not taking advantage of it.”

Mikaela grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico, where her dad urged her to drop out of secondary school because they couldn’t afford the costs. During that time, the financial burden of federal grade school was placed on students. Because others like Mikaela viewed education as a rare opportunity, they have devalued its impact on their children’s lives, said Mikaela.

Rene Sadate, 54, is another parent who understands the importance of education. He graduated from the University of Mexico. His daughter decided to start a family after graduating from Boulder High.

“I would love her to go to the university one day, but I truly don’t know that she will,” Sadate said.

But Mexican-Americans aren’t the only ones struggling to break through the economic barriers to education. A homeless man, Randy Skelton, asked patrons for money as they left mass. Skelton, 50, works multiple jobs to sustain himself. Limited by his eighth-grade education, he is working toward obtaining a GED diploma.

“The education system here is a lot better than where I’m from . . . (in) Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Skelton said, who noted the GED exam is offered for free in Boulder to those who qualify.

For Skelton and other low-income families, it seems as though education is still a privilege difficult to obtain.

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