We’re back with the second installment of our USLA Youth Spotlight. Earlier this week, we sat down with Jay, an extremely bright and inquisitive 18-year-old senior at Philadelphia School District’s Bodine High School. During our chat, we talked about the challenges he faced when he first immigrated to America from China five years ago, what life in Philadelphia’s public high schools are like, and his plans for the future. Here is what he had to say:
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
If you don’t know me, maybe you think I’m a quiet person. But, if you get to know me more, I’m really talkative. I am kind of funny, I mean I can take jokes. I am kinda a really outgoing person. I like to learn new things and I am really passionate about computers. I also really like to play pool.
Pool? Where do you play pool at usually?
Wherever I can find some competition. Anywhere.
How long have you been in America and where were you living before?
5 years. China.
OK. Why did you and your family come to America?
From my point of view, I believe my family wanted a better future for me. Because in China, the job opportunities are limited.
What was life like when you first came to America?
It was really, really tough. When I came here, I didn’t come straight to Philadelphia, we landed at Seattle and we spent, like, roughly 3 months there at my aunt’s house. My family couldn’t get a job. We couldn’t go to school. So we decided to leave my aunt’s house and come to Philadelphia. My parents hoped to find steady work here.
[Life in Philadelphia] was better immediately because I got into school a week after. This really helped me entertainment myself. Seattle had been boring.
I know you are interested in computers. Did you have a computer at this point?
I’ve been using a computer since age 6, but mostly for video games. I didn’t start programming yet or writing code because I didn’t know where to start.
Yeah I know what you mean. Programming can seem inaccessible when you’re young with no guidance. Does your high school have courses available that teach Java, Python or any other programming languages?
Not really. I wish they would but maybe they don’t have the resources or money available to afford it. The budget cut really affected our school.
The budget cut? When did that happen?
There was a budget cut at the beginning of the year. It was a huge difference. We used to get [a lot of] free stuff. We had more teachers, more classes. I heard of this because I transferred to Bodine when I was a junior but I heard that there was a Chinese language class, a French class and a Spanish class. I mean, they kept French and Spanish, but not Chinese.
The public school system in Philadelphia has proved to be very controversial over the past few years. Why did you transfer to Bodine?
Well I started at Kensington Urban High School, and I wanted a greater challenge. Kensington was extremely easy. I was a straight-A student. I mean, [at Kensington], you didn’t have to do anything.
What do you mean? Explain.
In my point of view, I think people just go to school for fun. They really didn’t care. They didn’t have a book bag, no pen, no books. They’re only going to school because its mandatory and they aren’t allowed in the street.
Wow. I’m sure that must have been extremely distracting to a good student, like yourself, Jay. When you first came to Philadelphia, did you find it difficult to make friends?
I think it’s my own problem because I’m really picky. I don’t like loud kids. I don’t like people who curse. Most people in my school curse out of nowhere and I hate it. Some kids argue out of nowhere and disrupt the class. I’m always the quietest one in the corner and paying attention to what the teacher says. But the one thing I don’t get, the teacher always pays attention to the noisy kids, but he never really pays attention to me.
Was this in Kensington or is this going on right now, at Bodine? Are they not answering your questions?
I mean, they just, they answered [my questions] but not in a serious way – just a random answer [that didn’t help me].
So, are you saying that you feel like they aren’t giving you the respect that you deserve as a student?
Yes. I mean, he’s a really good teacher. But he did this to me and he made me feel uncomfortable. I asked him a question about homework and he just quickly said “we’ll talk about it tomorrow” – and then he forgot about it.
I’m sorry Jay. I completely understand. He pretty much “brushed you off” and made you feel like your question wasn’t important. You deserve much better than that! You are supposed to ask questions in school – so keep asking them! But maybe he was having a rough day. Do you think that was possible?
I think that he was probably having a tough day and dealing with a tough class.
Well, at least you’re doing what’s right Jay. You can only worry about yourself. You’re almost finished high school. That’s a tremendous accomplishment! When do you graduate and what are your plans for the Fall?
Haha thanks – I’m trying. My graduation is June 15th and then I start in the Fall at CCP [Community College of Philadelphia], I’m going for Computer Science and have started reading a textbook on the Java programming language to get a head start on the material.
That’s awesome Jay! So, when did you first start working with the Federation of Neighborhood Centers? How did you hear about us?
Well, FNC came to our school, Bodine, on 4th and Girard, and it seemed very interesting. So I signed up. That was in October of last year.
Do you think USLA/FNC have helped you?
Yeah it helped me a lot. Before, I was so scared to talk to people because of my accent and my English. They helped me develop my public speaking. They helped me a lot on my college applications. And I have grown a lot as a person.
So you’re becoming a more well-rounded person, ready to enter college and eventually the workforce. That’s great. You’re getting ready to start a paid internship with USLA too right? What are you going to be doing through the internship?
There are different categories. The one I picked is marketing. Although its not technology, its related because we have to make flyers, post on social media to get information about the farm stand out to the [general public].
Jay, thank you so much for talking with us today. I have one last question for you. What is your favorite part of USLA?
My favorite part is when we come together and work on a project. Not really a project, but when we open up and listen to each other’s history. I like learning about everyone else’s personal histories.