Earlier this March, I had the privilege of participating in the student mock-interview program facilitated by the Law and Public Service Pathway at Theodore Roosevelt High School. Our purpose was to further develop an authentic professional experience where students were inspired to pursue careers in law and public services. I was excited to not only provide students with real-world, professional interviews but also to encourage and support students with critical feedback on their performance.
Theodore Roosevelt High School is a comprehensive high school which serves the local Latino/a community of Boyle Heights. According to GreatSchools.org, Roosevelt’s student demographic is approximately 99% Latino/a, with 79% of families identified as low-income and 20% of students designated as English-Language Learners. I graduated from a high school with similar demographics as Roosevelt’s. I understood where these students were coming from and what they will experience entering the work force and higher education.
For most students, the mock-interview program is their first introduction to an interview. I wanted to make certain I could equip them with as many tools and skills for successful interviewing as I could within the thirty minute timeframes we were given per student. However, I found myself exceeding the time limits because of working with students to help them understand why eye contact matters during an interview, and how every interview question should be answered with their previous experiences or accomplishments that exemplifies their best assets and character. These types of professional skills are seldom introduced to students from low-income, immigrant, and ELL families. Yet, they are crucial for obtaining internship and job opportunities in a growing competitive work force.
My approach to working with these students was inspired by Tara J. Yosso’s community cultural wealth model which refutes the traditional perspectives surrounding cultural capital. Yosso’s Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth shifts the focus away from a “deficit view of Communities of Color as places full of cultural poverty disadvantages, and instead focuses on and learns from the array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed by socially marginalized groups that often go unrecognized and unacknowledged.” Central to Yosso’s work is the conceptualization of the cultural capital Students of Color bring with them to school from their communities; assets such as Bilingualism, resiliency, navigating spaces and institutions not designed with them in mind, and community solidarity.
Similarly, my goal was to focus on helping students see their skills and their experiences as assets which they could discuss during an interview. One student who strived to be a social worker described how they did not feel confident speaking English because they were shy about their accent. After a little bit of probing, they confided they wanted to be a social worker because they cared about listening to people’s needs. I saw them realize how their shyness could also be an asset to them because of how powerful their listening skills had developed. I encouraged her to see her listening skills just as important as her speaking skills, because her ability to listen to the needs of people would help her as a social worker.
Another student described how difficult interviewing was for them because of their recently diagnosed General Anxiety Disorder. I asked them how they believed their disability could potentially work in their favor. They were coming to understand their unique needs as a student who was otherwise successful in their academics. Throughout our interview, they came to understand how their disability was helping them learn how to manage their mental process. I could sense a renewed confidence in their demeanor.
Overall, I was overjoyed to work with the Roosevelt students on behalf of the Center. Although I am an administrator and do not often have the opportunity to work directly with students, I was greatly impacted by the humility and intellect of the students at Roosevelt. Programs such as the Law and Public Service Pathway, with support from our Linked Learning coach Grace Cruz, exemplifies the type of high-impact practices which are crucial to the development of Students of Color from marginalized communities. The Center’s commitment to equity, as well as my own commitment, drives our motivation to continue participating in these programs and engaging with Los Angeles’ students.