Students Rising Above

by Michelle Griego and Jennifer Mistrot

HAYWARD (KPIX 5) — On a recent school day, Briseida Ayala and her classmates mulled over an age-old question many consider to be the central issue of psychology: the debate of nature verses nurture. It’s was a classroom discussion that hit close to home for the UC Berkeley-bound high school senior.

“Can where you grow up overwhelm you and your family or can you overcome that?” her teacher asked. “Can you go on to be successful starting with a difficult situation?”

Ayala and her family have overcome some very difficult circumstances. Her mother and father moved to the US from Mexico and neither had the opportunity to attend college. Her dad worked in construction before life took an unexpected turn.

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“My dad got into a car accident,” recalled Ayala. “And he had a hernia in his back. And even though he had surgery it is not going to be fixed.”

Her father would never be able work again due to his injuries. The family struggled financially, and as the oldest child Ayala took it hard.

“Because I was also trying to deal with school and then my parents at home,” explained Ayala. “But my parents were always very supportive. And they didn’t want me knowing as much because they wanted me focusing at school.”

Through all their collective struggles, the family remained close and supported Ayala with her academic goals. She excelled at Mt. Eden High School in Hayward, impressing teacher Paul Mitchell.

“I think that like a lot of our students they deal with adversity and I think it just makes them more determined to do well,“ explained Mitchell. “They know how important it is for them to go to college.”

Now Ayala’s the first in her family to go to college, and she’s quick to credit Students Rising Above with part of her success.

“I am more than thankful,” explained Ayala. “I am grateful for SRA.”

At the same time, Ayala also credits her loving family equally for her academic achievements.

“They were so happy,” said Ayala. “My mom is very like family-orientated so she loves that I am staying close by.”

Ayala offers these words of advice for anyone who thinks their future is sealed by their economic situation or perceived social status.

“You are never really alone. There is always going to be people there for you or programs like SRA.”