Learner Voice: A Conversation with Margaret Santos Perez

Learner Voices | Q&A   15 August 2019
By Margaret Santos Perez, The Met High School


I really wish people would ask for students’ opinions on things. And, not just high schoolers. We don’t seem to pay much attention to what middle and elementary school kids have to say, and I feel like they are the ones we should care about the most because that’s where it all starts. That’s where your mindset is being shaped.

Margaret Santos Perez
Young Learner

Q: What makes attending The Met so different than your previous learning experiences?

Margaret: I began attending The Met my freshman year. Before then, I attended a conventional middle school. One of the biggest academic inhibitors for me growing up was the lack of challenge and room for growth. I was expected to grow but to stay within the bounds of what was expected for my age. I was getting good test scores and grades, but it was a boring experience—I wasn’t challenged.

Once you reach 100%, there’s nowhere to go. You’re at a dead end. Yet, they expect you to keep learning without giving room to do so, which was really frustrating.

At The Met, it’s really different because I’m given the room to grow. I don’t underestimate myself anymore, and I’m willing to go do things that are really challenging. When I first started, it was a little hard because I was so used to having everything down pat. Then, all of a sudden, I was expected to take on these crazy challenges that aren’t typically expected of a 15-16-year-old.

Things like internships, advanced projects, and even receiving job opportunities from those internships. When I tell people outside The Met about my experiences, they say, “Aren’t you 16?” They don’t expect a 16-year-old to be able to take these sorts of things on or for a high school to have those opportunities available.

Q: What do you think somebody should expect from a 16-year-old?

Margaret: I feel like our opinions should be taken seriously and those teenagers themselves should begin understanding that we’re capable of so much more than we sometimes believe. At least where I’m from, we don’t want to think we can apply for Ivy League schools, take the stage at big conferences, or belong in meetings with big name adults. We don’t see those things as options because we’re not being shown those opportunities are available for us. When I was at Education Reiamgined’s Learning Lab, young learners were being told, “The students should have a say about their learning.”

Believe it or not, that’s really weird to hear most other places. I was really happy to be there and hear that from adults. We could really make a difference if we were given a chance. We, teenagers and adults alike, need to start understanding there’s no age that determines whether or not you deserve to be somewhere or be somebody.

Q: At what point in your Met experience did you begin relating to yourself differently and not identifying so strongly with the conventional limitations associated with your age?

Margaret: This past year, during my sophomore year. As a freshman, I was so used to not challenging myself that I wasn’t taking full advantage of the opportunities given to me. I didn’t like internships at all, which is funny because I love internships now. I didn’t know what I was interested in early on, so I wasn’t looking for the right opportunities.

This past year, my teacher really took the initiative and helped me begin signing up for public speaking competitions—speaking is something that comes naturally to me. After a few competitions, I won one and as a result, I won funding for a project I wanted to take on. It’s called “Everyone Can Cook”—healthy cooking classes run by volunteer students interested in cooking. They teach other students preselected, healthy, culturally-friendly recipes and cooking tips to use at home and later on in life. I’m going to be organizing the project myself and building new connections I would have never dreamed of having before. It’s really cool to understand there really are no limits. As long as I take myself seriously, others will take me seriously.

Q: Even though they might not have started off being your favorite thing, what did you learn from those first few internship experiences?

Margaret: When I was in middle school, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer or a politician, so I interned at a law office my freshman year. I quickly realized it really wasn’t for me. But, I stayed at the internship because I wanted to be professional—I wanted to be there for a certain amount of time. Rather than leaving after three months, I stayed for an extra trimester. Thanks to my commitment, I still keep in touch with the office.

My next internship was at a real estate office, which came from desperation. I needed to pick something. My advisor already had a contact there from a previous student he’d had, and he helped me see the opportunities I would have to learn more about being a professional—communicating clearly on the phone and through emails and learning QuickBooks (which is what a lot of small businesses use). It was really cool to pick up those skills. When I tell people I know how to use QuickBooks, they say, “You’re only 16. How do you know how to use QuickBooks?”

Most importantly though, the real estate office just so happened to share a hallway with a psychologist’s office. I started realizing I had an interest in psychology, so I took it upon myself to interview the psychologist who works there. I asked questions like: “What do you like about your job? What’s one thing you regret not taking advantage of while in college? What college do you wish you went to now that you know you wanted to be a psychologist?” I was really interested in her answers.

Then, my advisor told me about opportunities to intern at a nursing home. I would get the chance to be around patients with mental illnesses, even if I wasn’t working one-on-one with them. My internship was with the activities director, rather than the director of social services. But, I knew I had to start somewhere. I understand I’m not going to immediately be the boss of things and be able to do exactly what I want to do. Coming to that realization was a little hard for me, but I eventually realized I needed to start somewhere.

About a month in, I decided to interview the director of social services and the conversation went so well, I scored an internship with her. Now I intern for her, and I have the one-on-one interactions I was hoping for all along.

Q: Talk about the interview process to get these internships. Was yours the same as others at The Met or were you following your own path?

Margaret: The interview process is something we have to do at The Met. We identify potential places and interview to see if there is any mutual interest. Then, we shadow at the potential internship place for a bit to confirm it is a fit. You don’t usually interview people that you don’t expect to have an internship with, so it was a little out of the norm for me to interview the psychologist while I was interning with the real estate office.

I also stepped out of the box a bit by interviewing her because we normally have set questions we ask. I made mine up to fit the situation. I wanted to learn about how she thought about her trajectory—mistakes she’d made or successes she’d had. That felt more relevant to where I am in my life now.

Q: What do you think you gained by sticking with it at the law firm, rather than leaving as quickly as possible?

Margaret: I’m completely sure the law isn’t for me, which is great to know before going to college. But, I also learned a lot about the arbitration process—where an arbitrator sits down with two disputing parties that want to avoid going to court and a verdict is chosen by the arbitrator. If one party refuses the verdict, then they go to court. I thought it was interesting because that’s kind of how it is when you disagree with your friends. One friend mediates, a final decision is made, and you move on.

An unexpected skill was filing paperwork. It was really brain-numbing, but I’m glad I did it because it helped me at my real estate internship. They needed a lot of help getting their paperwork organized, and I was able to come in and put a system in place. It was really cool to see something I had learned in one place be used to make an impact somewhere else.

Some of the skills I gained also bled into my schoolwork. All of a sudden, I was a lot more organized than I was in middle school. Overall, that’s a key point I really took with me—this opportunity (any opportunity) was extremely important because I never could have seen how I would use it later on.

Q: As a rising junior, what is something you would want incoming freshmen to know from day one?

Margaret: Really bond with your advisory. At The Met, you have a set class of 16 people and your advisor and that’s who you’re going to be with for the rest of your high school career. You can’t just expect the bond to come because you do school work together. You really have to go out of your way to bond with everyone inside and outside the classroom.

I completely ignored this during my freshman year, and it made it far less enjoyable. It impacted me mentally and emotionally. I wasn’t going out of my way to building relationships and then I was wondering, “Well, why am I not really close to anybody here but everybody is really close?”

It wasn’t anyone’s fault. My advisor and peers tried to include me, but I didn’t accept the invitation. I didn’t think it was important. During my sophomore year, I really understood the importance of participating with my advisory and once I began making those bonds, I realized how valuable those connections are. It makes you a lot more relaxed in the classroom, and it makes you more willing to ask for help when you need it.

Once I made these connections, my grades began climbing, I began doing internships I enjoyed, and everything began to click. It made school a lot better.

So, be involved in your advisory. Remember that you are a person before you are a student and that relationships and bonds are more important than your work in the beginning.

Q: What do you wish people asked you more about education and learning?

Margaret: I really wish people would ask for students’ opinions on things. And, not just high schoolers. We don’t seem to pay much attention to what middle and elementary school kids have to say, and I feel like they are the ones we should care about the most because that’s where it all starts. That’s where your mindset is being shaped. 

These kids know themselves as human beings everywhere they go, but once they start school, they begin seeing themselves as a student first and a human second. I really feel like those kids need to be asked more about their learning and education and what they want. It’s always really valuable just to ask and see where it leads you.

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