At James Bowie Elementary School, three days before class starts, Adan Gonzalez’s third grade room is almost ready.
“I've seen some fancy people they’re like swoosh,” Gonzalez said as he tried to rip orange paper for his classroom’s bulletin boards.
“‘Mr. Gonzalez, seeing that on the door, how crazy is that?” Kristin Dickerson asked.
“Very crazy, I think I was gonna tell them to call me by my first name,” Gonzalez said.
The first-year teacher sits in the middle of work zone-themed decorations.
“So the theme of my class is basically ‘scholars under construction,’” Gonzalez said. “And the finished product is that every kid in this classroom will own their identity, own where they’re from, and why we’re here—to earn an education that will grant us our freedom.”
His classroom pillars preach to be bold, be confident and be disruptive.
“Absolutely,” Gonzalez said. “I think for someone to be disruptive is someone that’s fearless, that can think for themselves in a positive way. Disruptive means that you are not going to just be complacent with the status quo.”
Fighting for change is not new to this 24-year-old son of Mexican immigrants. He used boxing, good grades, and community service to go from living in poverty in South Oak Cliff to studying at the prestigious Georgetown University.
He’s the first in his family to go to college.
“I was trying to break the cycle of survival,” Gonzalez said in a July 2016 interview at his parents’ home. “Trying to demonstrate to my dad who is a janitor and my mom that works in a warehouse that we too can aspire for higher education.”
To help spread that message, Gonzalez started the Si Se Puede Network five years ago; collecting luggage for low-income students dreaming of college, transforming a vacant lot into a community soccer field, and teaching boxing along with life skills to neighborhood kids in his parents’ backyard.
“Alright, guys, bring it in,” Gonzalez yelled to the children after boxing practice was over.
No matter what the setting, his goal is always to empower.
“Education is freedom,” Gonzalez told the children. “That’s the only thing that’s going to grant you the ability to think, act, and do as you wish for yourself, do you guys here me?”
“Yes,” they all responded emphatically.
In April, his network of kids and parents walked together in the Dallas Mega March, which Gonzalez helped organize while getting his master’s degree from Harvard.
“Out of all of the things in the world that you could be doing right now with a master’s degree from Harvard, why third grade teaching?” Dickerson asked.
“I couldn't imagine any place in the world where I could use my talent, my skills, my knowledge, and more than anything my heart to impact, and change, and evolve, and construct and build—than this community that made me,” Gonzalez said.
This community, this school, and this specific classroom where he is teaching are all part of Gonzalez's history.
“I came here. I was literally in this classroom when I was a third grader,” Gonzalez said.
Now as a teacher and the school’s director of parent engagement, he’s rallying families to get involved and demand more for their child’s education.
“I came purposely after my master’s because I wanted to be as prepared as I could because my community deserves the best,” Gonzalez said. “Am I ready? Probably not. Will I ever be? I’m not ever going to stop trying. And I think the most I can do for my kids is everyday pour every ounce of my brain and my heart for them to understand that I’m here with them. That their future is my future.”
Gonzalez is helping his young scholars build their way to a better life by following in their new teacher’s footsteps.
Click here if you would like to help Gonzalez and the Si Se Puede Network.