Lost and found

Poor, brown, and inner-city. These Adamson High School kids weren't supposed to make it. They did anyway.

"One night I told him, people in the lower class are living in a clear glass bottle, but they don't know it. They can see out, but they don't know they're trapped in the bottle. People on the outside can look in and see that you are trapped."

I asked him what I had asked Cabrales: Why you? Why are you making it, when more than two-thirds of the kids you started high school with are still trapped in the bottle?

He said part of it may have had to do with his mother's difficulties. "I think I took responsibility for myself. I've heard so many people say because they don't have a father, that's the reason they turned out bad. I think that is bull. I didn't have a father. I didn't turn out bad, because I chose not to. There was all that stuff, there were drugs around. I chose not to do them. I thought it was necessary to take responsibility, and I wanted to please my mom."

I survived Adamson High School: from left, Armando Monsivais, Sonia Cabrales, and Manuel Herrera
Mark Graham
I survived Adamson High School: from left, Armando Monsivais, Sonia Cabrales, and Manuel Herrera
I survived Adamson High School: Sonia Cabrales
Mark Graham
I survived Adamson High School: Sonia Cabrales

Grimes is still in school at UT because he changed majors. He spent his first three years preparing for a business career.

"My teachers at Adamson had pushed me toward business courses, and I did pretty well at it. But after three years it just didn't catch my attention. I took a few math classes, and they really grabbed me."

He is engaged to be married. After he graduates this year, he says, he and his fiancée plan to move to San Antonio, where she is from and where Grimes plans to teach math in a public high school.

"My eyes have been opened tremendously," he said, "and I see both worlds now. I understand a lot more about life, I guess."

He wants to get someone else out of the bottle.

Lydia

Lydia Davila graduated from Adamson in 1998 as valedictorian and received a four-year scholarship from the Adamson Foundation to UT. That year the Dallas Independent School District told state officials the drop-out rate at Adamson was 3.3 percent. Davila started Adamson in 1995 in a class of 680 freshmen. Her graduating class was 231, giving her class a real drop-out rate of 66 percent. The percentage of students at Adamson deemed economically disadvantaged that year was 66.1 percent.

"Both of my parents were from Guanajuato. My dad caught the last of the Bracero program. They got married in the early '70s and moved to Dallas. I am the third of four kids and the only girl. I was born in Dallas in 1980."

When she arrived at Adamson as a freshman, she took a pre-honors biology class from Peggy Henson.

"Her theory was that nobody should fail. She was always telling us you have to be assertive and always fight for what we believed in. When I couldn't get in a class I needed or something, she would say, 'This is an administrative problem. You need to go get your parents, and you come back and you fight for it.' If you were having trouble in a class, she would say, 'You go back to that teacher, and you ask for help. You ask him to tutor you after school. Be assertive.'"

Davila was shocked by how tough the university was at first.

"I got a D in my psychology class. I had a roommate who studied less than I did, and she got an A. I couldn't believe it. She kept telling me, 'It's just the way you study.'"

Davila had to confront a reality: Being assertive and ambitious, being basically smart, having a good attitude, and even studying regularly were not enough. She had to find ways to study that would enable her to master the subject matter.

"I tried everything, the concentrating and the whole process. I tried different stuff. I tried outlining the chapters, and that did not help. I tried re-typing my notes, and that helped, but not enough."

Finally, in desperation, she invented her own scheme. For each course, she made out a set of flash cards and drilled herself relentlessly. Eventually her grades moved back up to the high marks she had enjoyed in high school.

She has strong feelings about Adamson. She values the teachers and the mentors from the Adamson Foundation who showed her the larger world beyond. But having seen that world, she now knows all too keenly what a poor job the school and the school system do for the vast majority of students, the ones who never get a glimpse.

"I don't see Adamson as a bad school. It just didn't have enough opportunities."

She's going into journalism. Bar the door, DISD headquarters.

Armando and Gerardo

Armando and GerardoWe met for coffee at the Starbucks in the new Albertson's at Jefferson and Hampton in Oak Cliff. Armando Monsivais is 25 years old, a graduate of SMU in classical guitar and piano. His brother, Gerardo, is 18, a senior at Adamson. Armando is teaching guitar, paying off student loans, and trying to save. He has been accepted as a student by one of the world's top classical guitarists in Mexico City, where he will go as soon as he has the money. His goal is to become an international performer.

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