Staff Highlight: Brandon Grijalva
Brandon is our Social Studies teacher for Association House High School. He shares how his high school health teacher inspired him to be an educator. He shares his favorite part of working at Association House, the high school, and his most fulfilling experience as a teacher.
What is your favorite part of your experience with Association House?
My favorite part of my experience with Association House is seeing the ways we’ve grown as an organization. Many organizations may find it easier to stick to what is comfortable and refuse to move with an ever-changing society. AHC, on the other hand, has shown itself to be willing to grow and respond to the realities of our world.
For example, when the uprisings and protests began in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police, we worked with administration to release a statement reflecting our commitment to anti-racist education. AHC has also worked to develop anti-racist policies within the building, developing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee to ensure we build these values into our operation and culture. Many schools or organizations might shy away from this sort of commentary and change, encouraging a stance of political neutrality, but AHC recognizes that neutrality cannot stand in the face of injustice.
What is your favorite part of your experience with Association House High School?
My favorite part of my experience with the high school is the ability for educators to shape their classroom, whether that be teaching style, curriculum choices, or classroom activities. Teachers are given the autonomy and respect as experts to be able to dictate what their classroom looks like and what topics will be discussed. While teachers all around the country are being forced to teach a history which ignores the racism of the past and present, we are encouraged to look closely at systems of oppression with our students. Instead of being told to avoid difficult topics, we are supported by our school to dive into these issues. Whether it be discussing violent protests, looking at wealth inequality, discussing homophobia/transphobia, or confronting racism, teachers and students are trusted to delve into these discussions with sincerity and care.
Who influenced your desire to want to be an educator?
My high school health teacher was the person who made me want to become an educator. He approached education in a way that made it real and made students want to listen. He covered information that we actually wanted to learn and made it relevant to our lives. He discussed topics that other adults stayed away from (like mental health, drugs, and sexual health) in a way that was comfortable and welcoming. He encouraged students to be unapologetically themselves and really saw students for who they were. He helped me understand that a good teacher is simply there to help guide the journey of learning that the students get to lead.
What has been your most fulfilling experience as a teacher?
My most fulfilling experience as a teacher is being able to see students recognize their own potential and use that potential towards a better future. Our students are required to exist within the traditional school system, which was created to reinforce white supremacy by violently requiring assimilation and conformity. For those who push against this assimilation, they are often given the label of “bad student” who “can’t be successful in school”.
Within this reality is an opportunity: Creating spaces in which students can re-envision themselves and direct the blame where it truly lies: a school system informed by a racist and capitalist society. Students can very acutely name and describe this system but have usually not had their descriptions validated by people with power, especially teachers.
And once their experiences are validated, there is a sense of relief and reassessment of identity: There are no "bad students". Instead, there are students who weren't allowed to succeed in a school system that was made to push them out. Any student can be successful in a school that loves and celebrates them.
Lastly, we begin to see another important reality: broken systems can be changed with people power and solidarity. This process of dismantling oppressive systems and reimagining them as positive, healing spaces is what makes teaching worthwhile. It’s a process of demolition and rebuilding that will be led by powerful young people.