Teacher returns to his Bronx high school to help kids succeed
Chess-loving student becomes teacher
Author: By Octavio Blanco
Published On: Dec 16 2016 11:59:00 AM CST Updated On: Dec 16 2016 01:31:43 PM CST

If his little brother hadn’t brought that board home and he hadn’t become obsessed with the game, he may just have failed out of high school and he certainly wouldn’t have gone on to attain a master’s degree in education.

“I was going through difficult times in school. I was getting into fights,” says De Jesus, now a special education teacher at Health Opportunities High School, the same South Bronx high school he attended.

De Jesus was born in the Bronx. When he was in second grade, his mother sent he and his brother Samuel to live with their grandparents in the Dominican Republic for three years while she saved up some money in Puerto Rico. While there, neither he nor his brother attended school — missing crucial years of education.

The family eventually reunited in Puerto Rico for one year and then soon returned to New York. Back in the Bronx, De Jesus was enrolled in the sixth grade, unable to speak, read or write in English.

For years, he struggled to keep up in school and eventually lost interest. The only thing he wanted to do was play chess. But that all changed when Jon Roure, an advisor from the CollegeBound Initiative, walked into De Jesus’ English class.

Roure took an interest in the chess loving teen and became his mentor. Soon De Jesus was hitting the books and competing on his high school’s chess team. He eventually applied for and got into Skidmore College and qualified for New York state’s Higher Education Opportunity Program, which helped him pay for school. In 2014, he earned his master’s in special education from The City College of New York through the New York City teaching fellows.

Now 29, De Jesus works for the New York City public school system and has started a chess program at his former high school, where he gives low-income kids a similar chance to succeed. He was recently given the Robin Hood Foundation’s Heroes Award, an honor awarded annually to New Yorkers who have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

This is De Jesus’ American Success Story.

What was life like growing up?

My mom left the Dominican Republic to come to the U.S. in 1985. That’s when she met my father. But things were very difficult because he was an abusive alcoholic.

Eventually, she met someone who took her in and helped her get on her feet. She remarried when I was in the first grade.

Her new husband was Puerto Rican. They couldn’t afford to bring us with them to Puerto Rico so she sent us to the Dominican Republic to live with my grandparents.

My grandfather was a farmer in the Dominican Republic and I’d go with him to the rice fields, but I didn’t attend school.

[After three years, my brother and I] moved to Puerto Rico with my mother and stepfather and I went into the fifth grade there.

It became immediately obvious that I didn’t know how to read or write. I was ashamed and humiliated. I remember telling my mom and she sat me down on her lap and taught me the ABC’s and how to read and write.

There was a lot of cultural tension between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. [The Puerto Ricans] called us “los monos,” the monkeys of Santo Domingo. I didn’t comprehend the racism. Then my mom was attacked and we decided to move back to the U.S.

Right before we moved, I found out that my father had passed away.

Full article here.

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