BY RASHEL CHIPI
Most stories in my life and journeys of discovery begin with conversations I’ve had with my family. I grew up significantly younger than the rest, and like any small child would, I carefully listened and took everything they said to heart. My brother emigrated from Cuba at the age of ten and had experienced the American school system by the time I was born. I have countless memories from my childhood of him advocating for my education or listening to him recount his experiences in admiration, confusion, or wonder.
His most important message was always to prepare for the SAT and while I was well aware of its importance and was certain I would prepare with ample time, I wondered why he stressed it so much to me. It turns out, no one had told him what the SAT was, when he should take it, or how to prepare. By the time he did take it, it was the last test date before applying to colleges and financial aid. The SAT is not an IQ test that someone can just take on their first shot and rely on their intelligence alone. This is a test designed for strategy and specifically worded questions that take time to prepare for- time that my brother wasn’t given. His score was impacted and this ended up affecting the trajectory of his education.
I slowly came to realize that the issues he faced were still a relevant and prominent issue. I spoke with friends from less funded high schools and would come to find that they also had little information surrounding the ominous college application process. I even realized that I had very limited information despite attending a high school that produced hundreds of college-bound students each year.
Any college-prep resource I would find was extremely overwhelming for someone who was just trying to start off with the basics. None of the resources I found were in Spanish. So I made a decision. In retrospect, I don’t think I realized how largely this decision would impact my life.
I started a website by the name of School Bell Blog. It is a bilingual website designed to give students of my county the basic information they needed that most other college-prep resources assumed students already knew. This included anything from the meaning of ‘freshman, sophomore, junior, senior’ to long lists of free summer programs.
Equally as important, I made a commitment to make every single post available in Spanish. I wanted every student who was still learning English and every immigrant parent who wanted to be proactive in their child’s education to be welcome in these processes.
To honor my brother, I made the very first post about the SAT and every benefit that came with the SAT Fee Waiver.
In 2019, I was selected for the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) Summer Institute held at Princeton University. I came to the program starstruck and prepared to make excellent impressions. I would have never predicted that one the first things said to us as a group was that we deserved to be there.
That we were carefully selected based on our character that showed in our essays. It was the thing I didn’t know I needed to hear. I was shocked at the powerful emotions this statement triggered in me the first time I heard it.
The next seven weeks were centered around this theme as their amazing staff had meetings with each of us to reassure us as we addressed personal struggles like imposter syndrome or generational trauma. They educated us about the deliberate barriers put in front of marginalized students.
This program opened my eyes to the fact that School Bell Blog was attempting to address issues that students from across the country could relate to. It inspired me to adjust my initiative back home to focus on all low-income, first-generation, and immigrant students. Much healing occurred at LEDA and I am forever grateful for the experience. It was necessary for me to come back home and approach the content on my site with more urgency than ever.
When I came back home, I started doing more and more for the website. I would stay up until 3 a.m learning how to use Photoshop to make a better logo. I would go to sleep and wake up thinking about ideas for the next publications. And quite frankly, I started pushing myself outside my comfort zone.
I started posing more in pictures, like the one shown here, to catch the eye of people who were tranced as they mindlessly scrolled on Instagram. I started making monthly segments on Instagram stories to highlight minorities in academia. I started finding writing opportunities from blogs and newspapers, like Zenerations, that would graciously let me write about my work on their platform. If I could scream it from the mountain tops I would, but Miami has no mountains. I started emailing personnel in my school district to present School Bell Blog to them and get their advice for reaching out to a greater audience. At one point, I even wanted to reach out to Pitbull, the Cuban rapper, and get him to promote the website to all of Miami, Florida. (I secretly still have that goal).
School Bell Blog’s first year anniversary came in February of 2020 and I could not be prouder of how far the project has gone in its strength of content, visuals, outreach, and message. This is the poster we used to promote our milestone. For me, it symbolizes that I’m capable of creating a successful wave of change around this issue and I can help students like my brother and I. I look at this poster and think of all the new milestones I want to reach for School Bell Blog during college, where I can grow it to a national scale. I hope anyone reading this tells younger students in their life about School Bell Blog and all the resources on this website that students can use to pursue any path in their education.