Sharon Mejia

Charlestown High School
Boston, MA

My name is Sharon Mejia, I am an 11th grade student from Charlestown High School. I immigrated to the U.S. on my own when I was 13 from El Salvador and I first ended up in Texas, then Pennsylvania and finally here in Boston.

Many students, such as myself, in Boston Public Schools are immigrants. More opportunities are available for students who are from here, while there are negative stereotypes about students who are immigrants.

I am here today because our English class participated in an action civics project with Generation Citizen. To decide on our focus issue for this civics project, we had several options. First, we thought about working on the issue of the MBTA and transportation delays because it affects our transit to school. We often have to wait for buses and end up arriving late to school, or have to wait for transportation late at night after working at our jobs, when we are tired, and just want to be home safe.

Deciding on a topic was very difficult for our class. But the past two months, we found that we all experience confusion when it comes to our life as workers. We see how difficult it is to get jobs, to understand rules about work hours for students like us, and to know our rights as employees. Many of my classmates are confused about their student rights when they get a job. In connection to this issue of creating more informed workers, we decided it would be beneficial to implement a mandatory class for all sophomores in BPS that would teach them about resumes, interview preparation, labor rights, connection with employers, and how to understand and fill out tax forms correctly.

At first we all did not agree on our issue but we all talked about it and decided that workers’ rights affect us more as students than the MBTA delays.

In the end, our class focus issue is educating students on their rights and responsibilities as employees in the world. Our goal is to get a BPS class for all sophomores that will train them in student employment rights.

We had our guest speaker from the Private Industry Council (PIC) who works at Charlestown High, Katelyn Zahler. She told us about the PIC programs for support because there is a larger need. Since she is only one person and has many students, it can sometimes be hard to meet with her. We need more funding so that more students can meet with her, get resume help, and help with getting summer jobs.

We also called people who could help us understand the different factors that could be root causes of our issue, such as Michelle Sylvaria, the Executive Director of Career and Technical Education for Boston Public Schools. We asked her to help us implement the class across BPS and she contacted the previous PIC advisor to come to our class.

At first, I did not know if we could reach this goal. However, there are people around supporting us and we can actually make a difference. I am involved in this project because we want change not only in our school but around Boston and show people that when they go get a job, regardless of being an immigrant, they cannot be discriminated against or be taken advantage of.

When I first got a job at a dry cleaner, it was really difficult because it was my first time. I was asked my name, age and skills. I was told the hours I would work and the wages but I only got a small amount of training. I did not get information about my rights as an employee or about taxes. Many young people from here in Charlestown High also do not know their rights. Students are very tired because they are working all night but they should not have to do so because of student working hour limitation laws. Students are scared to speak up because they do not have green cards and may be working under the table.

We work hard to make this BPS Job Class happen and try to get more people involved to support our project. Sometimes as a student, we do not see the power we have to change our situation. If we work hard and have support, we can have our goal come true. There are so many stereotypes about young people: that we only care about money or how we look. It is not that- we are the future. This country will be taken by us and we need to have a structure to know how to give back to our community.

Students need to continue to do these types of civics projects because they can develop their leadership, teamwork, and collaboration skills, as well as presentation skills, which I am doing right now. If we advocate for ourselves, we will feel less helpless, and more able to decide and discuss how we think, what we want, and how to strive for what we want.

I have learned so much from my project and Generation Citizen. I learned about teamwork because we sometimes do assignments together and we hear the opinions of other people and listen to one another. Before this project, I did not think of myself as a leader. Now, I call myself a leader because I put effort in our project and motivate everyone together to reach our goal. At my church, we talk about leadership which I previously did not believe I fit but now I see how leadership is something we become and have inside us.

Soon, I will graduate, and I want to continue to be a leader. Even though when I graduate, I hope to become a performing artist, or become an immigration lawyer to help other people like me, I will still use the skills that have given me the sense of power to make a change, in my own life, and the lives of others.

I would like to thank everyone involved in this project,  such as other Charlestown High students, my English teacher Erin O’Hearn, Democracy Coaches Daniel, Melissa, Frances, my other teachers, Ms. Castillejo and Mr. Benaoui and Generation Citizen for making this project possible and for honoring me with the Student Change Maker Award.