“I’ve never seen this many white people before” was the first thought that came to my mind when I walked through the office building and onto the main campus of this private, Palo Alto school. It seemed like hundreds of fair-skinned, blonde, blue-eyed girls were all corralled into one place for the summer. Most of them were with their parents, carrying brand new backpacks and duffel bags filled with tennis racquets, roller blades, and swim suits. I had arrived on the bus, parent-less, and with no such equipment. I’m not even sure if I had a backpack.
We were quickly told to gather in the quarry where we were assigned a group and a counselor. My counselor was a young guy, early twenties, with brown, curly hair, green eyes, and lots of energy–more energy than I was used to seeing from a teacher-like authority figure. He assured us that we would have lots of fun that summer. I was excited to try all the classes that they offered. I had never been to a summer camp before.
Our first three classes consisted of math and science. I hated the math part. We were given worksheets filled with multiplication problems that we had to solve as quickly as possible. When we finished the sheet, we had to yell, “time!” and the teacher/counselor would tell us how many minutes we had taken to complete it. I had not had too many math lessons in school so this was difficult for me. After about 20 minutes, I wouldn’t even tell them that I had finished because I was convinced that I was the only one still working on the worksheet. It’s too late, I thought, and everyone else moved on a long time ago.
Other times, we had a class dedicated to asking us questions about our personal lives. We were given questionnaires to fill out. Some questions asked us about our hygiene and whether we should/do use shampoo or soap to wash our hair. Another question asked, “If a guy said c’mon let’s do it, how would you answer?” We were in fourth grade.
When the first three mandatory classes were done, I was able to choose two fun classes. Over the next two summers, I took Japanese, volleyball, tennis, cross-stitching, cooking, cheerleading, track and field, and many more. I was able to do so much that I had never been able to before. I just wished I could’ve taken all fun classes instead of having to take those first three mandatory classes everyday.
“What are you talking about?” One of the blonde girls that I was talking to was confused when I told that I didn’t like taking those math quizzes.
“You know, the first three classes. They’re mandatory and they make us learn math and science.”
She looked at me, completely confused. Then she listed all the classes that she was taking: swimming, drama, tennis, Spanish, and rollerblading. No math. No science. No questionnaires about her personal hygiene.
“Wait, how come you don’t have to take math or science?”
“I don’t know.”
I asked a few others. They were taking baking, sign-language, tap dancing, basketball, ballet, badminton, and still no math. The only people that were taking the mandatory classes were the girls who rode the bus with me. Girls who came from my school and other schools in my district. After asking more questions, I finally realized that I was part of a special program for underprivileged kids in the East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park communities.