Alex Gutierrez is a student at the International Leadership of Texas high school, a charter school in Garland. For Alex, math is a struggle. As junior year ends, a big geometry test looms.
Alex Gutierrez has dreams. She’d like to go to college and study criminal justice. She wants to become an FBI agent or a police detective.
First though, Alex has to get through junior year. And pass geometry.
She failed geometry last fall. And now, she’s scared about the final exam.
For Alex, who’s 16, junior year has been a big adjustment.
“It has been rough,” she said. “It just feels like there’s more work than there has been freshman and sophomore year.”
One recent morning, in math class, Alex and her classmates are reviewing math problems for their final.
“I want you to find the area for that shaded part. You see there’s a hexagon inside a circle,” teacher April Nguyen explains.
Alex needs to make sure she can calculate the volume and surface area of three-dimensional shapes. And figure out the properties and rules of polygons. And know everything she can about circles.
Nguyen approaches Alex’s desk and points at her worksheet.
“Now look, I like what you did, but I don’t need that angle there,” Nguyen says. “Because if you have two angles, you’ll get confused.”
“It’s scary but exciting. … You’re going to be starting to live the adult life.”
Nguyen, who earned Teacher of the Year honors at the school, said Alex is working hard to raise her geometry grade. She asks for help outside of class. Alex even formed a study group with some of her classmates.
“With the algebra skills, she is great,” Nguyen said. “You can give her just any equation and ask her to isolate any variable, she can do it. But it’s just the concept, where she reads a word problem, she doesn’t know where to start. That’s what she struggles with.”
Nguyen said Alex needs to focus on the word problems, one sentence at a time, to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
“It’s not just Alex. It’s every student,” Nguyen said. “They read the long word problem. There’s a mouthful and then they’re like, ‘OK; now what?’”
Alex balances math with dual credit courses. So she’s earning college and high school credit.
“She would be the first in the family to get a degree. It’s important to me that Alex go to school. That she be successful and have a career for her own future.”
‘What’s Out There For Me?’
Alex is also taking foreign language classes.
Students at International Leadership of Texas are required to learn Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.
The goal: to be trilingual by graduation, so students are ready for the increasingly global market.
As junior year wraps up, Alex and her friends have been talking about life after high school.
“We talk a lot about it whenever we’re walking to our next class,” she said. “It’s like, OK, we have like literally three weeks left of school and then we’re going to be seniors and then we have to start turning in our college applications. And then we’re off.”
Marco DeLeon is assistant principal of the Garland charter school. He says juniors have a lot of questions. Reality is sinking in.
“I think for juniors you really start to see the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of graduation and that next step, and what am I going to be doing,” he says. “What’s out there for me beyond IL Texas High School?”
For Alex, it’s Sam Houston State – a three-hour drive south, in Huntsville. Alex and her parents visited the college this spring.
At home on a recent evening, Alex and her mom, Leticia Rocio Gutierrez, sit on the couch talking about the future. Her parents have always stressed the importance of education.
Leticia Rocio Gutierrez says going to college would mark a family milestone.
“She would be the first in the family to get a degree,” she said. “It’s important to me that Alex go to school. That she be successful and have a career for her own future, because we’re not always going to be there for her.”
The Future: Exciting, But Scary
Alex’s parents are from Michoacán in southwestern Mexico. Her dad didn’t finish high school; her mom did and studied to become an executive assistant.
She’s glad Alex is learning to be more independent, like driving. Alex drives to school now. Still, it worries her mom.
“It makes me nervous that she might be on her phone or that she does something she shouldn’t be doing,” Leticia Rocio Gutierrez said. “Or that she tells me she’s somewhere she’s not.”
That independence brings mixed emotions not just for mom, but for Alex.
“It’s scary but exciting at the same time because you know you’re away from your parents,” Alex said. “And then it’s scary because you’re gonna have to start supporting yourself financially and like getting a job and going to school. So you’re going to be starting to live the adult life.”
For Alex, that next stage of life will be here before she knows it.
“It has been rough. … It just feels like there’s more work than there has been freshman and sophomore year.”