Park View

Pilar Rios begins an ESOL internship at Park Street Elementary, where teachers and administration work together to uphold the school's educational philosophy: "Engaging Instruction, Empowering Achievement. Every Day, Every Child, No Excuses."


Pilar Rios, graduate student, explains her interest in Park Street Elementary School.

Pilar, soon after she moved to the United States.

I was just five when my family moved here permanently. My papa had been working at a garden center near Atlanta for years. We only saw him at Christmas and then again in the summer, after the spring rush, when he’d drive twenty-nine hours straight each way to visit us. My mother didn’t want to leave Mexico, but my brothers were getting older and she wanted the family to be together, so we moved.

My brothers say I’m spoiled, that everything is easier for me, that I’m the lucky one. My oldest brother, Ramon, went to school here for a few months and then dropped out. He said the kids laughed at him, but I think really he was invisible, and that was worse. I picture him wandering the school, lost, not knowing how to ask for help. He went back to Mexico to live with my grandmother. He’s happy there, runs his own business, but he hardly ever comes back to visit.

My middle brother made it through tenth grade and then got a job working construction. He’s a roofer now, and really good, but he works for a white man who handles the paperwork and talks to the clients. Not that Jaime can’t, but a lot of people don’t like to hear an accent when they ask a question. They think it means they won’t get a good roof. When they go out to bid a job, the white guy does all the talking, tells them how good “Jimmy” is. And then scoops fifty percent of what my brother and his crew earn, just because he doesn’t have an accent.

Mama never learned to drive or speak English more than a little. She grows tomatoes in the backyard and longs for home. My papa, he’s like me. His life is here. I used to go with him when I was little to work at the garden center, and all the women there would talk, talk, talk to me. They gave me candies that turned my tongue bright red, or green, or blue. I would stick out my tongue and name its color in Spanish and English. They would laugh and tell my papa how cute I was, how smart. My Papa was so proud of me, and I could feel the sunshine of everyone’s smiles down to my bones. My papa’s lucky; they’re nice where he works. He’s not in the fields, following crops, not like some.

Which brings it back to me, why I’m here. I am Mexican. I am American. I look at these kids, and I see myself. I see my brothers, my mama, my papa. I know what they’re up against, and I want them to be lucky, too.

Click here for Park Street Elementary Enrollment by Demograhpics.

Pilar begins her internship by meeting with Principal Leigh Colburn.

Pilar is excited to begin her internship.

Park Street Elementary smells like new carpet and fresh paint. They must have just remodeled, but it’s spring, and I can’t believe they would do that work with school in session. Sarah, Michelle, and I are about to begin a month-long internship here, and we arrive early, trying to make a good impression.

The secretary directs us to wait in a conference room that is a monochromatic gray: chalkboard, chairs, and walls. A soft gray. The color of drizzle and sleep.

When I was a child, rainy days seemed to drag on forever, and my papa would take me with him to work. The first time he brought me to the greenhouse, he introduced me to the manager. “This is Sue. Se llama Sue,” he said, pointing to a woman clad in green and pink. I thought she looked like a movie star, with her frosted blond hair, golden skin, and bright lipstick. She picked me up, set me on the work bench, and shooed my father back outside to finish fertilizing the roses. I sat up straight and smoothed my skirt carefully. Sue gave me a trowel to dig in the speckled potting soil. “Vermiculite,” she told me twice. While I rolled my tongue around all those syllables, she handed me a cherry red watering can. “This is yours,” she said. “For when you visit.”

Leigh Colburn, principal, orients the new interns.

My thoughts are interrupted when the door opens. I recognize the principal from newspaper articles and TV interviews. “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting,” she says, and sits down opposite me. I look at Sarah and Michelle, my fellow interns, and then smile across the table. “I’m Pilar,” I say.

Ms. Colburn starts talking, reviewing our roles and responsibilities during our internship. We know all this already, so I don’t pay full attention until she talks about her school.

Click here to see copies of the data collection forms teachers use to track student progress.

In my grad school program, Park Street is a bit of a legend for its success, and everyone wants to intern here. Sarah nudges me with her foot and gives me a thumbs-up out of sight beneath the table. She knows how much it means to me to be here.

Click here to see Park Street Elementary students’ disaggregated performance on the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), Grades 1 – 5.

Mrs. Colburn hands me an ID badge. “Welcome to the Park Street family,” she smiles. “Here’s your schedule for today.” I check out my list of teachers to observe and wish the other interns and I weren’t all split up.

Pilar observes a third grade classroom, meets with an ESOL teacher, and ends the day at a butterfly release and student choral poetry reading.

Ms. Walker teaches third grade.

The first classroom I visit is Ms. Walker’s. She’s older than I expected. I don’t know why, exactly, but I thought teachers here would be younger. I wonder what that says about me and my beliefs about who cares for the underprivileged. Ms. Walker explains a bit about her classroom as her students finish up an assignment.

I like her and how she thinks about her students. She treats them like there are bigger worlds waiting, worlds where it’ll matter what they say and how they say it.

I wish my brother Ramon could’ve come here. He would’ve been too old, of course, since he was sixteen when we moved. The high school he went to was pretty small. You’d think his teachers would’ve had the time to help him out. I don’t think they saw anything other than drop-out in his eyes, though, and they didn’t waste their time.

The contrast between Ms. Walker and what I believe my brother experienced pains me. As she launches into the lesson, I can tell she’s thought about and planned ways to involve all her students.

Ms. Huffman works with the youngest students at Park Street.

The next thing on my schedule is meeting with Bettina Huffman. I am especially looking forward to talking with her, since she works with the kindergartners at Park Street, and I was just their age when I came to this country. My parents thought I needed more protection than my brothers, and they scrimped and saved to send me to a parochial school. I was the only Mexican girl in my class, and I became a sort of pet rather than a person. I wonder what it would’ve been like to have Spanish speaking friends—and teachers—at school.

Students read stories and poems to commemorate the butterfly release.

I leave Ms. Huffman’s office just in time to join Sara Young’s first grade class as they head outside to release butterflies. I trail behind, feeling sleepy in the hot sun, and my mind wanders. I think how all these butterflies will travel to Mexico in just a few months, thousands of miles on wings so frail that it’s a miracle any of them make it. I’ve seen them there, cloaking the trees with bright wings winking in the sun. Immigrants, like me, like these children. I think about how strange it is that everyone at Park Street, so different one from the other, is on the same path. How unlikely it is that any of us make it, yet we do.