Rising from Hardship, Remaining Hopeful, and Reaching for Happiness:

Bibi’s Story: Hardship to Happiness

Rising from Hardship, Remaining Hopeful, and Reaching for Happiness:
How I helped lift my family out of poverty and pursued my professional passions

By Bricherland “Bibi” Quinones

For as long as I can remember, my mother told me that my education was the key to my success. She had me when she was young and did not finish high school. After earning her GED, she reminded me that the more education I had, the higher pay I would receive, and the better quality of life I would live.

My mother believed that I could achieve anything, no matter what anyone said.

Growing up in poverty, living in crime-ridden neighborhoods, and attending schools with crumbling infrastructures, I got battle weary. I saw things no child should, and I became exhausted, learning of someone else in my community dying from gang activity or hearing of another person who used to live close to me struggling with substance abuse.

My mother tried to shield me as much as possible, but experiences like these inevitably spilled over into school. Over time, I developed a hardened exterior that inhibited my education. I didn’t feel like the goals and dreams I had would ever be within reach.

I was determined, but everything somehow always seemed a bit harder than I expected. As a studious child, I thought if I behaved well and did my work, the path would pave itself for me. But in my younger years I had teachers who created roadblocks, who were burnt out themselves and held onto deep-rooted prejudices they hadn’t yet released. I had less-than-inspiring instructors whose intentions manifested through micro-aggressions or even outright racism. It was clear that some teachers were coming in to collect a paycheck, while others were glad that I was quiet and completed my work.

An education entwined in empathy. 

My mother knew that the public-school options in my hometown were not helpful to my best learning. In looking for alternatives, she found Connecticut River Academy’s application by accident while researching magnet high schools. I later applied through the school’s lottery system and ultimately enrolled.

On the first day of school, I met my homeroom teacher, who smiled, talked to me, and asked me about myself. Then I met my science teacher, my English teacher, my history teacher, and I suddenly realized that the school’s fabric was woven with the threads of seeing me — seeing people who looked like me and acknowledged our struggles. Instead of saying, “Hey, you’re late,” for instance, instructors greeted me with, “Hey, I’m glad you’re here today.”

For example, if a student hadn’t eaten at home since lunch the day before and didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast before coming to school, it may have been difficult to understand the concepts we covered in class. The teachers noticed this, acknowledged students’ food insecurity, addressed it respectfully, and helped meet scholar needs to concentrate better.

After school, I told my mom about these interactions, these instances of seeing us as human, and we were baffled by the generosity. As time passed and we weren’t solely focused on just surviving, we realized the kindness and warmth displayed at CTRA were the bare minima for an educator to exude.

CTRA teachers were tuned in with the school climate and culture because they were interested in knowing who we were and who we wanted to become. Once those relationships were created and nurtured, our real learning began.

CTRA taught me to see the value in myself.

In high school, I loved to write poetry, but I was embarrassed that it might not be any good. One of my English teachers wanted to nurture that talent. She read my poems, corrected some stanzas, and gave me ideas. I gave her insight into a personal space that I kept secret, and she was honored to be invited in.

She and another English teacher collaborated to get my work published in Goodwin University’s Beacon literary journal. I won a third-place prize for one of my poems and even had a poetry reading at Goodwin when I was just a sophomore in high school.

When my teachers told me to stop doubting myself, I started seeing my college dreams as a possibility.

Combatting the first-generation learning curve.

When CTRA scholars were told we had the option to take college courses at Goodwin University for free through the early college model, I immediately seized the chance. All the people I met in my college classes were nothing but kind. CTRA scholars received the same instruction as the older students, were held to the same expectations, and were accountable for our academics.

As a first-generation college student, I attempted to figure everything out on my own. Fortunately, the guidance counselors at CTRA periodically checked in, supervised, and ensured scholars were getting the support we needed.

As an CTRA gave me the tools I needed to succeed in university. Counselors guided us on how to have conversations with our instructors and ask questions in the classroom. The magnet school taught me that it was okay to ask for help. They educated me on time management, organizational skills, and how to communicate my needs effectively. This support later benefited me greatly when I went off to earn my undergraduate degree.

Leaving CTRA was bittersweet not only for me, but also for my mom, who felt welcomed in an educational setting for the first time. She is very proud of my accomplishments now and attributes many of my perspectives, values, and successes to the foundation I received at CTRA. She loves to talk to anyone who will listen — family members, co-workers, her boss —  about the things that I have done. She has many of my alma mater’s t-shirts, mugs, and memorabilia, and she always mentions how lucky I was to land at CTRA.

Education pulled me, and my family, out of the cycle of poverty.

For my family and me, education means access to opportunities. Education gave me access to an integrated bachelor’s and master’s academic program at UCONN. Education allowed me to study abroad in South Africa, when previously I had never traveled outside of America. Education gave me access to opportunities like my current occupation, teaching English in Japan.

A family tradition for our future.

My mother wanted the same education I received at CTRA for my siblings, and she proudly enrolled my younger sister and brother into the magnet school. They are now scholars on their own paths to success. Graduates of CTRA, my sister is pursuing achievements in the human services field, while my brother is active in the business industry.

When I was younger, my mom always talked about school being a second home, because that was the place where we spent an enormous amount of our time. I didn’t believe it was possible, but CTRA is a home where I will always be welcome.

For more information, visit: www.ctriveracademy.org/learnmore
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