Picture of Lucero Espinal in graduation cap and gown.

How T4T is Helping Me Achieve My Dreams

Lucero Espinal, a 2016 graduate of Oakland Mills High School, is part of the first cohort of Teachers for Tomorrow (T4T) scholarship winners. This fall, Espinal plans to build upon her experiences in the Howard County Public School System while attending McDaniel College, where she will prepare for a career in education and increase her community involvement. Here she blogs about how T4T is helping her pursue her dreams.

It was 5 in the morning on a cold January day when I realized I wanted to go to college. I was in the 6th grade and was preparing the night before for my second quarterly assessments. The day of the assessments was a day unlike any other. Instead of waking up to the cumbia music, which my mom played on the radio, it was the sound of fists pounding on the door. My father often left his car keys inside the house and would wait at the door for my mom to let him in, but that day it wasn’t my father. It was the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who were at the door. My mom could not speak English very well, so she called for my older sister to help translate. It turned out that my father had a warrant for deportation, and they were searching for him. As they looked through the rooms of our townhouse in the early hours of the morning, my sister was comforting my mom in the living room while I stood off to the side feeling numb.

It was not until that morning that I realized how much my family depended on my dad. At the time my mom was not working in order to focus on caring after her health because she was pregnant, which meant that my father took over the bills. He left a week later after the incident, and my mom took over the role of both parents. My older sister was starting high school while I was starting middle school, which meant there were more expenses. I was worried about how I could help my mom since both my sister and I were too young to get a job. Then, I remembered something that my parents frequently instilled in us since we were little. Although my parents did not receive a proper education in Mexico, they wanted us to do our best in school, so that in the future we could be “someone” in life. It was due to this reason why my parents decided to move our family to Howard County for better opportunities when I was in first grade.

After the incident, I put more effort in school, which led to teachers moving me into more advanced classes. While my drive for school continued, I couldn’t help but notice how different the atmosphere of my classes was compared to one another. Before I was transferred, there was a handful of Hispanic/Latino students in my classroom. After the change I realized I was the only one. This brought back a memory from when my family first moved to Columbia, and I was confused at how in Prince George’s County I was one of many, then in Howard County, I stuck out from the rest. It continued to bother me as I began to notice more how I was unable to connect with the students in my classes because of the difference in culture, which continued throughout high school.

It was near the end of my junior year when I became aware that if I wanted to see change then I would have to take the first step toward it. I was tutoring and mentoring students in my community as a way to help motivate them to continue going to school, but I knew that it was not enough. I was occupied starting the college process, which filled up my time. I knew that I wanted to continue going to school, yet I did not know what I wanted to do. My family was already struggling to send my older sister to community college, and I could not allow them to pay for my education while I was undecided on what I wanted to do. Then in the fall of my senior year, I received in the mail a flier about a new program called Teachers for Tomorrow, which would become the greatest gift I could ever receive.

After graduating, I realized that all the years I have spent in the Howard County Public School System have taught me a valuable lesson. Despite all the obstacles you need to face in order to obtain your education, there is no greater reward you will receive than knowledge, because as long as you are willing to keep learning, you are unstoppable. It is for these reasons why I am excited to be a part of the Teachers for Tomorrow program. I hope that through education I can help more students achieve their goals and be a support for them like my teachers have done for me these past years. The program is a blessing for not only allowing me to have the opportunity to continue reaching out in my community, but also to help me obtain a college degree in what I am most passionate about. I look forward to the years to come and the new faces I will meet this fall at McDaniel College.

Picture of three girls with Bright Minds bags

10 Years Supporting Opportunity for All

PIcture of Pat SassePat Sasse was hired as Bright Minds Foundation’s first executive director in 2009, and has been working since with the board and the school administration to establish the nonprofit in the community. Sasse spent her earlier career at the Social Security Administration, where she held increasingly responsible management positions and retired as the deputy director of the Baltimore Call Center. Here Sasse reflects on where the foundation stands today, after a decade of support to the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS).

The Bright Minds Foundation is the Howard County Public School System’s (HCPSS) educational foundation, created in 2006 to support HCPSS students. It is governed by a board made up of private citizens who meet regularly to plan and oversee the successful pursuit of its mission. There are two employees who manage the day-to-day work and implement the programs. The board and employees consult HCPSS staff to determine emerging needs and then work to raise private funding to help fill those needs. Our mission statement is: “We support education, aspirations and the opportunity to succeed for all students in the Howard County Public School System.”

You might know Bright Minds as the nonprofit organization that provides technology to students who don’t have access at home. And, yes, that has been our signature program from the beginning, and we’ve continued because the need continues to grow. Over the years, we have donated almost 1,000 computers to students and families who otherwise would not have this tool at their fingertips. Our motto has been: “Imagine not having a computer when you go home…” Our program has ensured that disadvantaged students can cross the digital divide to succeed and that their parents have access to school information online. We know this program is changing lives, and we have many stories that illustrate this.

What you may not know about are the other programs in place to support students. Our Staff and Teacher Grant program has allowed HCPSS educators to implement classroom enrichment projects ranging from STEM projects like geocaching, using handheld GPS equipment purchased with grant funds, to health initiatives, like the purchase of heart rate monitors for middle school students to use when they exercise in physical education classes. One teacher introduced electrophoresis (DNA fingerprinting techniques!) to her class, another has brought the art of playwriting taught by actual play writers into high school classrooms, and others have commissioned original compositions for their band students to play for the first time. Grants range from $500 to $2,000 each, and they are competitive. Staff members complete applications describing their projects and how they help fulfill the Bright Minds’ mission, and selections are made by Bright Minds board members serving on the Grants Review team. This program has provided over $100,000 in small grants across the school system over the years, and we will award several more in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

We are excited to describe our newest program, Driving Student Success. We have set up a separate fund to raise money to increase the number of after-school activity buses available to any student who wants to participate in a variety of after-school programs but until now did not have an option to return home. Launched in November 2015, through collaboration with District 1 Councilman Jon Weinstein, we have been able to fund extra buses at six schools since January, with donations provided by local businesses. A list of the businesses who have contributed and information about how you can also contribute to the fund can be found at www.drivingstudentsuccess.org. We are collecting statistical data about the first six months of the program and will share it on this website and in our regular newsletters.

In summary, we honor the many generous donors in our community who have committed to supporting our students and our outstanding educational system by contributing to programs that provide opportunity for all. Anyone seeking more information about the Bright Minds Foundation can visit www.brightmindsfoundation.org or contact me, Executive Director Pat Sasse, at 410-740-0707.