Elderly Immigrant Students Share How High School Admission Improved Their Lives in the United States

By Jo Napolitano
June 19, 2024

Melvin Martinez, at nearly 23, entered 12th grade at Rudsdale High School in Oakland, California.

An immigrant from El Salvador, Martinez first attended school at 17 but later dropped out due to the challenges of balancing education and fatherhood.

Reflecting on his decision, Martinez expressed regret after working in a local restaurant without progress in his life.

Three years after leaving school, a reunion with his former math teacher prompted Martinez to re-enroll and earn straight A’s, emphasizing the importance of educational opportunities for motivated individuals.

Despite Martinez’s successful re-entry into high school, an investigation revealed widespread refusals of enrollment to older students like “Hector Guerrero.”

Hector faced over 300 denials from 204 schools across 35 states, despite state statutes allowing students up to age 20 to enroll.

California, where Hector was turned down by all 35 queried high schools, lacks protections for older students seeking to return to education.

Martinez’s own journey back to school and advocacy for older students like his brother Javier underscore the transformative power of education.

Melvin Martinez and Javier standing with a family member (Javier Martinez)

Javier, encouraged by his experiences, expressed a desire to learn new skills and share his knowledge in the culinary field despite initial obstacles preventing him from attending high school.

Alanys Zacarias, denied enrollment at 18 in South Carolina, believed her life trajectory would be different had she been given a chance to pursue education.

Alanys Zacarias at her workplace in Walmart (Jo Napolitano)

Reflecting on the consequences of the rejection, Zacarias shared her aspirations to earn a degree and improve living conditions for her family in Venezuela.

Despite challenges, Monica Venegas successfully enrolled in a South Carolina high school at 20 and went on to complete her education, facing financial difficulties to continue her studies.

Monica Venegas during her time in high school (Maxwell Vittorio)

Medza emphasized the importance of high school as a stepping stone to his college and career aspirations, highlighting the impact of biases on older students seeking education opportunities.

Kharrel Medza, embracing opportunities through education (Gardner-Webb University)

Despite challenges, Medza pursued his academic dreams, stressing the importance of providing equal educational access to all individuals.

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