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Meet The Class Of '17: Summer School First, Then High School

For eighth grade students heading to high school, summer’s supposed to be a fun time. But for one Mesquite girl, it’s been kind of stressful. In this installment of KERA’s series Class of ’17, we meet Alex Gutierrez who didn’t have the math grades to get into the private high school she wanted. Now, she’s going to have to get through summer school to advance to the ninth grade.

It’s the first day of summer school at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Dallas. The gym is buzzing with kids. Alex Gutierrez – a tall, lanky, 14-years-old girl – is one of only a handful of students her age here.      

She wishes she could have a summer free of homework. But, there’s her least favorite subject:

“They say that so I can get promoted to 9th grade, I have to take summer school math,” Alex says. “Because math is the only thing that’s like holding me back.”

Alex wanted to attend Bishop Lynch, a private Catholic high school in East Dallas, but she didn’t get in.

Now, she’s back at Trinity refocusing on ratios and proportions, slope and distance.

“What these two are called are legs and what this is called is a hypothenuse,” Math tutor Lizette Hernandez explains to Alex. “What’s the ratio of the legs?”

“Would it be 3:4?” Alex asks.

“Yes!” says Lizette.

Like other summer tutors here, Hernandez is a Holy Trinity alum. She’s also not much older than Alex. She just graduated from high school and is planning to attend Stanford in the fall.

She says Alex seems to be doing pretty well so far.

“We work through it together the first time and we just keep repeating and so the repeating helps enforce it better,” Hernandez says.

Alex is not afraid of being challenged. That’s why her parents say they wanted to avoid the public school closest to their home.

Her older sister Nelly Catalano, who’s 31 and has a family of her own, graduated with honors from public school. But, as she puts it, she took the easy way out and didn’t go to college.

“I want her to show me that she can do it. And I know that she can,” Nelly says. “She just needs that extra little push.”

Nelly and Alex have been spending a lot of time together, going to the gym and eating out.

One day last week, they noticed a sign that said “now enrolling” at the construction site of a new charter school – International Leadership of Texas.

Only three spots were left for the 9th grade. They signed Alex up.

“It was a big relief to find out that yes, we found a school and it’s actually the one she had her eye on,” Nelly says. “She’s like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so excited I want to go to school now.’ I wish it was time to go back to school.”

Alex wants to be the first in her family to go to college. And she hopes one day to work for the FBI.

Her parents are from the state of Michoacan in Southwest Mexico and they speak Spanish at home. Mom, Rocio, sells pre-need funeral insurance and dad, Jose, works in construction.

“I feel like he expects a lot out of me so I kind of want to go to college and I want to be able to be something big in life because I want to be able to show that I can do it,” Alex says about her dad.

Alex’s mom says she has concerns about her daughter, even if she’s going to a smaller high school.

She says what worries her is that Alex will get mixed up with the wrong crowd and maybe even drop out.

Alex is a little worried, too. Last year, some of her classmates got involved in cyber bullying.

“One of the girls from our class started it and then that’s when people started joining in but somehow it was directed to me because I was defending the one who was being bullied and so I turned out being one of the victims as well,” Alex says.

For now though, Alex says she just wants to get through summer school – and math class.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.