By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
A job changed Oswaldo “Ozzie” Flores, perhaps forever.
“I was just one of those little thugs,” said Flores, 16.
“I was always getting suspended, always in trouble. I remember being told I would never make it to the high school,” he said.
That string of suspensions led Flores to an unlikely job offer from Clovis Municipal Schools Community Relations Director David Briseno.
“Behind Ozzie are two very loving parents. They called me and said, ‘I need your help. We are losing our son,’” said Briseno, who offered Flores a paying job as an assistant in his office.
His eyes fixed on a piece of paper, where his words were written, Flores told an gymnasium full of people Saturday that Briseno’s simple gesture changed his life.
“Very slowly, I started to change,” he said in a crisp button-down shirt. “I let my guard down.
“I would probably be sitting in jail, if I didn’t have Mr. Briseno,” he said.
Flores said he now has plans to attend college. Among Hispanic students, such a path is far from the norm. In Clovis Municipal Schools, 51 percent of students who drop out in grades seven through 12 are Hispanic, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department 2004-2005 Dropout Report.
“There is a high dropout rate for students who live in poverty and children of color,” Briseno said.
“The problem,” he said, “is they (students) need adults like us to provide them moral and spiritual guidance.”
Once a person in need of guidance, Flores has become a person who gives it. He no longer works in Briseno’s office, but at the Lincoln-Jackson Family Center, a fledgling branch of Clovis Schools that offers parenting classes and after-school programs.
Closing the achievement gap between minority students and their peers is among its goals. Flores spoke in support of the center Saturday during its grand-opening ceremony.
Flores, who attends Clovis High School, said his presence has a deep impact on students who come to the center.
“They can relate to me more than they can relate to other people. They know I grew up on the streets. I talk like them, I look like them,” he said.
Clovis Schools administration has hung hopes around the center, around the idea that parents can incite positive change in education.
“We want to be part of the solution. We want to drive that achievement gap down so our students get the same education that other students do,” Briseno said.