By Anna Shi
Looking around at his mentors in the NYU-Mount Sinai neuroscience lab, Angelo Garcia wondered whether to give it all up.
“Am I going to stay in research?” he remembers asking. “I see so many of my mentors struggling to keep their labs and I really do not want to be in that position.”
Ultimately, Garcia left research for teaching, becoming a founding teacher of Harvest Collegiate High School.
He says he aspires to be a teacher who keeps young people curious, keeps them wise as they grow older and inspires them to stay in touch.
His teaching career began at an expensive private day school. A day school is a nonresidential school, typically a private one. Garcia’s emphasized inquiry-based learning, creative arts and competitive athletics.
At his former private school, class sizes were smaller, which he says is beneficial to students.
“I always liked the idea of what we did at the day school,” says Garcia. “It was similar, but not the exact same as we do here, and so I always wanted to bring that to kids who didn’t have privilege.”
Through working at a program called Sponsors of Educational Opportunity (SEO), Garcia also worked with kids outside the day school.
SEO is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing supplemental educational and career support to young people from underserved communities.
“I worked with disadvantaged kids,” Garcia says, “and I created this curriculum for them where it was dope and I had a lot of fun.”
He wanted to take that experience and bring it to a public school setting.
Surprisingly, when he made the shift to public school, Garcia did not find the new environment that different. But the change has definitely brought him perspective and it was not always easy.
“I was totally unprepared,” he says. “For the first two years, I was lambasted. Classes were insane, kids were throwing papers. They were basically not learning anything.”
Garcia says that the major difference between a private school and a public school is the funding. Public schools often do not receive as much funding compared to private schools. According to chalkbeat.org, Harvest has a total school funding per student of $22,656. Compare that to the per student spending at a nearby private school, Grace Church School, where parents pay a yearly tuition of $48,560.
The price difference is one of the major reasons that leads Garcia to question whether Harvest Collegiate has the potential resources to take the school to the next level.
“How can we be creative? How can we manage with the resources we already have? And you have to just think about it this way, you just have to be creative, persistent and patient.”
Creativity is key to managing with limited resources. As a founding teacher at Harvest, Garcia knows this firsthand. He connects the process to the engineering projects he does with students.
“You know when we did prototypes?” Garcia says, “You know how your first prototype is? And then your second prototype is a little bit better and it requires skill to get something that works.”
The idea of starting everything from scratch again is a difficult thing to do, especially when you expect things to be the same. As he tells his students, it can be messy.
“So even though you have these great ideas and knowledge, to build something from zero is just an enormous undertaking,” Garcia says. “Things don’t always go well and you have to realize that it is going to be part of the process.”