Special Report
Equity & Diversity

Cuban-Born Student Readjusts to Miami’s Cuban Culture

By Christina A. Samuels — June 01, 2012 3 min read
Lisbet Ascon, 18, back center, does warm-up exercises during beginning-choral class at Miami Coral Park High School in Miami. The junior, who is Cuban-born, grew up in Cuba and Chile before moving to the United States when she was 16.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Listening to 18-year-old Lisbet Ascon today, one would be hard pressed to imagine her as a shy 16-year-old, protesting when her English-as-a-second-language teacher tried to get her to talk in class.

Born in Cuba and educated both in that island nation and in Chile, where she attended middle school, Ascon had taken some English classes, but not enough to feel comfortable when plunged into an English-only school after moving to the Miami-Dade County school system two years ago.

“I was scared of what people were saying, so I didn’t speak anything,” Ascon says. "[My teacher said] talk, you have to talk! I said, ‘No, I don’t want to'—but I said it in Spanish, you know?”

But with support from her teachers and a healthy dose of determination, Ascon made it past her own diffidence, honing her English skills well enough to pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment tests required for high school graduation on her first try. Now heading into her senior year at Miami Coral Park High School, Ascon already has one Advanced Placement class to her credit in Spanish language, and hopes to enroll in Spanish Literature and in AP Chemistry in her senior year. She sees a science career in her future, but in what science field, she’s not sure.

“Now I’m doing chemistry, the regular class, and I love it so much,” she says. “Last year, I did biology and I love it so much, too, so now I’m completely confused. But definitely no physics,” she says, laughing.

Ascon entered Miami-Dade schools with some advantages. She comes from a highly educated, middle-class background: Her mother is an engineer, and her father is trained as a mathematics and science teacher. Both of her parents are taking English classes to improve their own skills.

“They always encourage me to go to school; since I was little, they were always very concerned about school and activities,” says Ascon, who also has a 9-year-old sister, Sabrina. (“She speaks English like an American girl,” Ascon says of her sibling.)

But moving around has presented some challenges. Her family moved to Chile so her father could pursue better opportunities. In 2010, the fear caused by the Chilean earthquake was the final push for her family to move once again, this time to Miami, where they already had relatives.

By that time, Ascon said she had forgotten some of the unique vocabulary of Cuban Spanish that she knew as a young child. Her high school has a few Chilean students, but she had to adjust to Cuban culture once again. And even though her English was good enough to have her placed in an intermediate-level class when she arrived in Miami, Ascon laughs when she remembers registering for school with her parents using only “drawings and signs.” Her skills have developed so much that she now finds herself in the role of cheerleader for her friends who are still learning the language.

Ascon has found herself around a number of students who, like herself, are high achievers. Miami Coral Park is number eight in the country in the number of Hispanic students scoring 3 and above on Advanced Placement tests; an additional five Miami-Dade high schools are also on that top-ten nationwide list. The school is about 97 percent Hispanic.

Her parents don’t need to hound her about her grades: Ascon says that she prefers to keep good grades to herself, but lets her parents know quickly if she’s struggling in a class. “I think it’ll be worse if I hide,” she says.

But Ascon says she doesn’t talk much about her achievements. “I don’t think as much about what people do around me. We all have a different talent that God has given us,” she says.


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by Learning.com

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Race Is a Big Factor in School Closures. What You Need to Know
Districts are more likely to close majority Black schools, researcher says.
5 min read
Key in keyhole on wood door
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Equity & Diversity Opinion There's a Difference Between Equity and Equality. Schools Need to Understand That
Equity looks different depending on the situation, and it's not always straightforward. That can cause confusion.
15 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Equity & Diversity What the Research Says New National Data Show Depth of Disparities in a Chaotic Year of Schooling
The first federal civil rights data released since the pandemic show that inequities persisted even when school buildings shut down.
10 min read
Tanya Holyfield, a second grade teacher with Manchester Academic Charter School, teaches remote students from her classroom on March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh.
Tanya Holyfield, a 2nd grade teacher at Manchester Academic Charter School, teaches remote students from her classroom on March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. New federal data from the 2020-21 school year show that longstanding inequities among groups of students did not change much even in a year when many students spent all or part of the year in remote and hybrid learning.
Andrew Rus/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion Am I Anti-Equity? You Decide
The push for equity has taken us into territory where "pro-equity" ideologues are doing destructive things in the education space.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty