“Fall into the cracks” is an expression that defines someone or something that has been overlooked or left undone. So many Latinx youth have been so insignificant to the educational system for so long that they have always been overlooked, undone. Always misunderstood. Always in the cracks.

When I became Director of El Colegio I made it my goal that there were not going to be any cracks for my students and their families to fall into. More importantly, I was going to have a school where no one would be invisible.


We start every school year with a stronger School Board and stronger group of staff that knows and understands that this is what we are set up to do: To see the children that once were invisible. We think that we have systems in place that will include every child and their complex lives. We think we are ready, and we truly believe that we are going to serve and support every child. Until Claudia walks through our doors.


Claudia comes to El Colegio every year.  Sometimes only one, and sometimes five or six Claudias come through the door. Claudia is patient and quiet. She makes no fuss. Never complains. No disrespect. Claudia is always well dressed, clean and ready to learn. She is funny without being inappropriate. The truth is that she misses her family and she wants to make lots of friends. Finally she feels safe.

Claudia does not scream poverty and misogyny. She is proud and classy. When she writes we learn about her story. She tells us how pretty the land is where she comes from. Green and beautiful. She misses the mountains. Minnesota’s flatness makes her feel lonely.

As time goes by and Claudia keeps writing, we learn that she was married without her consent.  

He is much older than her. He used to hit her. Last time she hit her, she was hurt so badly that she lost her baby. She was pregnant and in her own words it was the most precious thing she has ever had. She decided to run away. She moved back with her mother. Claudia’s father died when she was a little girl. Her ex-husband found her and tried to kill her and her mother. It was time to leave. Claudia is going to be one of our top students. She writes beautifully, she is hungry for learning. We all love having Claudia around.

Claudia has survived a winter. We think she has made it. Spring comes and we started to notice her absences. We talk to her. What does she need? She has to work.  When she comes to school she is late and tired. She looks exhausted. By the third quarter Claudia is no longer a regular student at El Colegio.

Staff at the school is worried. Home visits are made. She is not there. Claudia lives with her uncle that she never met until she came to the US. Where is Claudia? She is at work. That is all we know. She works about fifty hours a week if she attends school, so she could be working about seventy hours now. She works at two, sometimes three different fast food places. Claudia makes about $8 per hour. She got two promotions this year and more hours. She is reliable and a hard worker. She may be making $10 per hour by the now, but she still has no health benefits and it is very painful when she has her periods. She goes to work even when she has that much pain.

Claudia has a lawyer. She is an unaccompanied minor. She traveled across Mexico on top of a train. She was detained in the border. She remembers being in “those cages”, freezing, being tortured. She would do it all over again.

Now she has to pay rent and utilities to her lawyer—the person that helped her cross the border. She has to pay one hundred dollars every other week to her mom, who can’t find a job. Claudia’s mom has three more kids all under thirteen. Claudia cannot abandon her mother and little brothers. She has to do all of that with about eight dollars an hour, or maybe ten.  The more hours she works the better for everyone.

Claudia has fallen into the cracks. Claudia has been overlooked; she has been left undone in and by a system.

But—now it is summer school; Claudia is back at El Colegio! She asks for permission to be back. She does not want to be disrespectful. She wants to start again. She knows that school is important. She needs to learn more of everything.  She only comes two out of the four days of the school week. But she is back, and we welcome her.

This particular educational system that Claudia has been forced to join is driven by individual academic success. But this system has become obsolete. El Colegio is about more than that. At El Colegio “la cultura cura.” At El Colegio we know that Claudia will have the skills to lead in whatever ways she wants to. Her life experiences are giving her the tools to be a leader and an initiator. She will speak truth to power. She disrupts, she does not conform.  El Colegio will be her vehicle to fulfill her Sacred Purpose, her Destino, and for her that is success.

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Norma Garcés
Norma Garcés is the Executive Director of El Colegio High School and Youth Development Program