As high school graduation approaches and I prepare to leave for college, I increasingly find myself reflecting on the people who have shaped the person I am today. As a child of Kenyan immigrants, the values of hard work, resilience, and perseverance were instilled in me at an early age.

My parents moved to America with $200 to their name and eventually from Minnesota to the Rio Grande Valley for better economic opportunities for our family. My parents’ drive for greater opportunities led to enrolling me in Pre-K at IDEA Quest at three years old.

Since my earliest days, school has always felt like a second home. It is where I encountered caring educators who prepared me for life and taught valuable lessons beyond any textbook.

Matthew Ondeyo

Mrs. Castellanos, my third grade reading teacher, was one of the first to teach me to value my identity. I would write “Matthew O” on my assignments at the top of the page, and she said, “Write your full name. No one else is Matthew Ondeyo. Be proud of that.” Those words struck me and instilled pride in the name my parents gave me, and the legacy that comes with it.

In fifth grade, my teacher Mr. Gonzales taught me the value of notetaking during lectures and explained how useful it would be for college – the first teacher to mention college as part of my future.

In sixth grade, my history teacher Ms. Prado shared how much she believed in me, urging me to take my education seriously and never take my foot off the gas if I wanted to be successful. Her belief in me proved to be life changing.

And in 10th grade, my English teacher, Mr. Resurreccion, taught me that our school is a community that helps each other in times of need. During the Texas freeze in February 2021, I raised more than $5,000 to provide food resources for families in need in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, with Mr. Resurreccion’s help. The experience led me to start a non-profit organization called The Solidarity Initiative. Led by a group of young creatives, our mission is to promote growth, cultivate conversation, and encourage advocacy.

Teachers help guide students into the best version of themselves and they deserve immense respect and gratitude. Because of my excellent teachers, I, too, am choosing a path of service for others. After graduating from IDEA Weslaco in May, I will continue my education at the University of Chicago and major in Public Policy. Because I invested 14 years into IDEA, and my teachers there invested in me as well, the University of Chicago is investing $331,392 into my future.

For millions of students like me, school is more than just homework and eating lunch with friends. A strong education is the foundation of the life I want to have — the life my parents envisioned for me when they made the journey to America years ago, and the life my teachers were confident I could achieve, when I wasn’t so sure.

As my high school journey comes to an end, I think about the classrooms that have shaped me and the lessons I’ll remember. Students deserve educators with high expectations. At IDEA, we are held accountable for ourselves and expected to do the necessary work to succeed in life. I’m a living example of the impact strong educators can have. My parents came to America to give me opportunities, and in a few short weeks, I will take my first step toward realizing that dream. No matter how far I go in life, I will never forget my wonderful teachers and that behind every successful student is a community of dedicated people who refuse to give up.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Mattnew Ondeyo, a graduating senior at IDEA Weslaco College Prep. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author and IDEA Public Schools.

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