How Two Hispanic Brothers Aced High School

How Two Hispanic Brothers Aced High School

…even though their parents never went further than sixth grade

 garcia family

Westly, Maria and McKenzie Garcia



When Westly and McKenzie Garcia began their high school careers at Wichita Falls High School, they decided that their parents’ lack of schooling didn’t have to define their own high school careers.


And they didn’t let it. Westly graduated fourth in his Class of 2013 and went on to attend the prestigious Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine on a generous scholarship. McKenzie is headed into his senior year at Old High, currently ranked No. 1 in his Class of 2017 with a 4.95 GPA. The Times Record News awarded him a bronze star in its STAR Student Awards contest in May, highlighting him as an exceptional junior at WFHS.


The boys’ parents are from Mexico. Their mother, Maria, went as far as the sixth grade in Mexico. Now she works as a custodian at the WFISD Education Center. She speaks broken English. Their father, Anacleto, never went beyond third grade before coming to America. He learned English and became an American citizen. He works construction.


So how did this immigrant family produce not just one high-achieving scholar, but two? Communication Specialist Ann Work Goodrich invited Wesley, McKenzie and their mother, Maria, to explain.


Ann: Maria, you didn’t go past sixth grade. Your husband went to school even less. How did you approach educating your children?


Maria: My husband, he do more than me. He talked very much with my kids. He explain everything. When they have trouble, he explain it. He doesn’t have much education. But he’s very good.


Ann: He has a lot of life understanding?


Maria: Yes, in everything. I remember one day when Wesley had trouble with numbers. My husband got a book, and he explain it very good. I think they learned much from my husband.


Ann: How did you help the kids?


Maria: I had a rule when they were growing up. Homework first. Before anything else.


When Wesley went to kindergarten, he went to school, then he came back home. I had my coffee table in my living room. He sit down and do his homework. When finished, he eat a lunch. I do the same with all my three kids.


When I was studying English in a church, they would give us homework. I ask Wesley to explain to me. My three children, very smart.


Wesley: Thanks, Mom! (Laughter)


Ann: Did you talk a lot about education? Did you tell your children, “I want you to go to college someday?”


Maria: No.


Wesley: Yes, you did.


Maria: My mother had 12 childrens. I went to a little school called a ranch. People want to close the school, but my daddy and mother, me and my sisters and brothers stick in the school. Later I went to another school. Then I say I don’t want to study anymore because I was too poor. I didn’t have lunch. I didn’t have money for coming back on the bus. I wanted to study more. But there was no money.


Ann: You came to America in 1993. Did you try to learn English right away?


Maria: The first days when I was here, my husband went to the store and bring me a book and a tape. He say, “Honey, this is a Bible. You can read the Bible or you can study English because you’re here.” I said, “I don’t need English because I’m going to go back to Mexico.” Then when Wesley was born in the hospital, nobody spoke Spanish. The day I got home from the hospital, I got my tape and my book. My husband said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m studying.” He said, “Why? You said you don’t need it.” I said, “Yes, I need it. Nobody speaks Spanish here. When I sick, I need a pill. Nobody gave me a pill. I need to speak English!”


Ann: So, that stay in the hospital convinced you that you did need to speak English so you could get help when you needed it. Wesley and McKenzie, what do you remember about the importance of education while you were growing up in your home? You’ve achieved so much. How did that happen?


Wesley: We didn’t have another option. What else do you have apart from school? We weren’t pushed into athletics. We were just taught we need to go to school. It was the best way to find success in life.


McKenzie: My mom always said, “If you know it, you have it forever. Nobody can take it away from you.” Education is the only thing that lasts forever.


Maria: Learn something, nobody can take it from you. You have a job, you can lose your job. You have money, you don’t have money. But education, nobody can take it.


Ann: Did your dad ever say, “I want you to go to college?”


McKenzie: He’d always say, “I’m proud of you. But I’ll be prouder when you graduate from college.”


Ann: Was he different than the other dads?


Wesley: Our relationship with our parents is a lot different. We’re a very cohesive unit. We always have dinner together. Then we stay up until midnight or 1 a.m. talking about current events, geopolitics, anything, even like how we messed up on cutting the grass.


Maria: I go to sleep. But my husband always stay at the kitchen table with McKenzie and Wesley. They stay up all night, talking and talking.


Wesley: We always just talk. I talk to other friends who say, “I finally had dinner with my parents.” I say, “That’s rough. We do that every day.” If we don’t do it, that’s the exception.


McKenzie: Our dad will still be working Saturdays and Sundays. He’s always working. That drive of our parents to always be working trickled down to us. My dad says, “If you’re bored, you can go work.” The worst thing to tell Hispanic parents is you’re bored. Your mother will find something for you to clean. Your dad will find something for you to go work on.


Ann: Your mother said you two are competitive with each other. Are you?


Wesley: We act like we aren’t, but I think we really are.


McKenzie: You pave the way. I try to one-up you.


Wesley: That’s the way it’s supposed to be, I think. The second generation is supposed to be better than the first one. I have to set a pretty high standard. Seems like it’s no problem for him.


McKenzie: It’s just work. All it is is hard work. As long as you keep working, all will go your way.


Ann: How did you get to be good test-takers?


Wesley: I got a 29 on the ACT score. I took it twice. Got 29 both times. I said that’s enough time wasted on that. I’m not happy with a 29. I wish it were higher.


McKenzie: I got a 29 on the ACT last year. The first time I took it, it was 26. I got training in class and whatever the Academic Success Program (a WFISD college prep program) provided. I feel their workshops are helpful. The exposure to the tests helps. You get comfortable taking the tests. If you know the materials, there is nothing that’s going to pop up at you.


Wesley: You never think, “What do you mean I have to write an essay in 20 minutes?”


McKenzie: If you know what you’re walking into, you can keep a level head. It’s also good to read. Not just classic literature, but news articles.


Ann: Do you read the newspaper?


Wesley: I read a lot of Bloomberg online articles. I have a newsfeed set up on Twitter. That’s how I start my day.


Maria: My daughter says nobody in her class watches the TV news. She watches.


Ann: Do you get the newspaper delivered to your home?


McKenzie: Yes. We always complain when they don’t bring it. When I get ready for school, I go in the living room and turn on CBS.


Maria: Everyday in the house we watch Mexican news. Then the local news.


Ann: Did you have access to a lot of technology as you were growing up?


Wesley: To place us on this whole technology timeline, I didn’t start becoming aware of technology until they came out with the iPod Touch. That’s pretty far into the life cycle of Apple products. We bought a computer when I was in 8th grade but we didn’t have Internet. My dad has two encyclopedia sets. Back in the day, we had to go and look through it. You couldn’t have Facebook open while you were doing it.


McKenzie: My first piece of technology was a Nintendo DS.


Ann: Do you think it held you back?


Wesley: I don’t think so. I think it serves more as a distraction. You may have it open, waiting for it to load, and you’re looking at Facebook.


McKenzie: You have to be attentive to what you’re doing. My Dad says, “When the Internet goes down, you have the encyclopedias. You can’t complain about not doing your homework.”


Ann: What advice would you give to other kids in your position, whose parents didn’t attend college, but they want to go themselves?


Wesley: Don’t assume you’re limited just because your parents were limited. Understand their struggles and what they had to go through….


McKenzie: ….But don’t think because they didn’t do it, you can’t. Public school gives you a bunch of opportunities. As long as you’re ready to learn, you’ll learn as much as you need to. Just keep your head down and keep working.


Ann: Wesley, in 8th grade you participated in a 6-week internship program at SMU in Dallas. Then you went to the University of Pennsylvania for two summers to do research. Those were amazing opportunities for you.


Wesley: It was a program to introduce underrepresented minorities to the world of medical sciences. I interned at a research lab with grad students, post-docs, and doctoral students. All because I was nominated by my teachers at Zundy Junior High. Mr. (Ferran) Casper and Mrs. (Melanie) Beisch nominated me; they were cool. I was like, “Sure, I’ll go for it.” They got me in.


Ann: You were fortunate that your teachers found opportunities for you. How would you have known about such programs otherwise? Maria, do you have any advice?


Maria: The kids don’t need to do what the parent wanted. A parent wants a son to play music because I not play it.


McKenzie: In other words, don’t live through your kids.


Maria: Yes. Let everybody have their opportunity.


Wesley: I agree. Also, if the child doesn’t tell the parent when he has problems, the parent won’t know and won’t know how to help. That was a big issue with me. I had been successful here, so I didn’t like to ask for help. I would call my dad from college with a problem, and he said, “Go ask for help.”


Maria: My husband always say, “Ask for help. Ask questions.”


Wesley: If you have a question, probably others have a question. Don’t hesitate. It’s beneficial to everyone to ask a question.


Ann: Do you have any final ideas to share about how your parents raised you to do well in school?


McKenzie: Pops always said, “When you grow up, be better than me, be better than what I’ve done.” Pops is pretty cool. That’s kinda hard to beat him.


Wesley: “Better” is hard to define. What do you mean? Better job wise? Better happiness wise?


McKenzie: You could say he hasn’t done much. But to us he’s done a whole lot. He came literally from nothing in Mexico to what he’s achieved today, a pretty remarkable leap. We live pretty comfortably. The reason Dad didn’t go past third grade is his dad died, and he had to go to work to support his family. Later he went to night school to learn English and become a citizen.


Look at what my mom did. She came from Mexico. She came from poverty. They didn’t sleep on beds. My dad slept on a mat. My mom, she slept with 11 other siblings.


We may mow the grass to earn our spending money, but we have self-propelled mowers. We have gas. We’re spoiled compared to the hardships they lived under, but they found success.


So we don’t have an excuse for sitting in school for a few hours and then not being successful.