Breaking Through Barriers
By Gerardo De Leon
Spanish Immersion Teacher
Pine Forest Elementary
Growing Up in Houston
I grew up in a neighborhood just north of downtown Houston, known as Northside. It’s a predominantly Hispanic community, and many at the time were low-income families. Growing up had its challenges as my high school was labeled a dropout factory. My freshman year, we had 500+ students begin in 1991 and only 233 graduated in 1995.
I faced many challenges growing up. Spanish was the primary language we spoke at home, and my parents knew limited English. It was difficult for them to assist me with homework as I grew older. Education was a low priority for many families in the community. Students dropped out of school to work and supplement their family income. And to add to all that, gangs and violence were common.
Returning to My Roots
I graduated in 1995 from Northside High School (formerly Jefferson Davis). I received my associate’s degree from Blinn College and my bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from Texas A&M in 2001. In 2016, I earned my master’s in Sports Administration from Concordia University in Austin.
During my time in college, I decided that I was going to go back to my old neighborhood in Northside and make a difference in my community. I was offered a job as a physical education teacher at my former elementary school and then transferred to my former high school. As an educator, I believe that I made the biggest difference with my students in the classroom and as a coach. I was able to assist them with issues they had in life, teaching them about making good choices and being a role model as a college graduate from the same school they attended.
Making a Difference Outside the Classroom
It became important to me to address the public safety concerns and needs of my neighborhood, beyond the impact I was making in the classroom. I first started by removing gang graffiti in the community. Then, I began organizing neighborhood clean-up events with the City of Houston twice a year to remove trash dumping sites. Pretty soon, I was meeting with members of the Houston Police Department to report major issues, especially drug activity, to help reduce crime in the area. During that time, my proudest accomplishment was rebuilding a community park that was abandoned for years.
I gave back 13 years of my life to my community of the Northside of Houston. And today, I am a proud Spanish immersion teacher at Pine Forest Elementary School in Humble. I want Hispanic youth to know that where you grow up and what challenges you face don’t have to define your future. Keep working hard to make your dreams a reality. And most importantly, when you do accomplish your goals, don’t forget to pay it forward.
Gerardo De Leon is currently a virtual Spanish immersion teacher at Pine Forest Elementary (Humble ISD) and has been in education for 20 years. He is married to Zinnia De Leon and has a son and daughter in elementary. He currently resides in Humble, Texas.