I Discovered How Important It Is to Fight with Our Words

Cindy Contreras shares her painful experience in remedial classes

Cindy Contreras is a first-year student at Normandale Community College, and she’s proud to be the first member of her family to go to college. When she started at Normandale she was disappointed to discover that she’d have to take remedial courses, even in subjects where she had achieved success in high school, extending her time there from two to three years. Since then, she testified at the Capitol and organized at her campus to improve remedial education. She sat down to speak to us about how she was drawn to leadership through SFER.

What experiences and values make education important to you?

Education is important to me because I feel like we should all get the same equality in education and it should be fair. I was not prepared for college when I graduated from high school. I feel like my teachers really failed me. I wish it could have been better.

I was really surprised when I got to Normandale and found out I had to take remedial English and math. I took honors math and never had any trouble in English in high school. Remedial courses really wasted my time and my money. The worst part about it was that the math course was an online course where I never really got the help I needed. Because of remedial courses I’ll be held back at Normandale for another year, which is frustrating because I want to get my career started.

Cindy shared her painful experience taking remedial courses at the MN Capitol

Cindy shared her painful experience taking remedial courses at the MN Capitol

Can you tell us about the arc of the work you’ve done with SFER over the past year?

A friend on campus connected me with SFER. I went to my first meeting, and I thought that it was really interesting that we could find ways to make our schools better because no one else can through what we go through. I started to go to other meetings and workshops and took charge of social media at our chapter. I also got to go to SFER National Summit and connect with so many leaders there who were all fighting for the same thing. It was just a great experience.

Then I got involved in advocating for the Reimagine Remedial campaign. I testified at the Capitol in March. I was so nervous at first, but Kenneth [SFER MN managing director] really supported me. It turned out great and I thought, ‘Wow, I did this!’ The week after that I was part of the leadership team on a week of action to push the campaign. We met with legislators, shared on social media, and gathered signatures on campus to gain support for our bill. 

Overall, I was not expecting how much I’ve grown through SFER over the past year. I found out this person I never knew was inside of me. I never knew I could speak like this. I think I really grew out of my shell and I’m really proud of myself for that. I discovered how important it is to fight with our words!

What do you hope will happen as a result of your work?

I hope something really happens with our remedial bill this year. Hopefully something gets done because I don’t want anyone else going through what we went through. When I canvassed around Normandale, so many students told me how much time and money they’ve wasted on remedial courses. I talked to one girl specifically, and she said, “You’re doing something about this NOW?” It’s just frustrating for so many students.