Ximena Zapata Uses Middle School Struggles to Lead Big Brothers Big Sisters


Ximena Zapata and members of BBBS with Gregory Lincoln M.S. students. (Photo: Allegra Fernandez/ Upstream).

Ximena Zapata, a senior at CVHS and the president of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Club, has grown up knowing the struggles of school, whether it be in her middle school, Stevenson Middle School, or at Carnegie. She has been through bullying, hard classes, and loneliness. But now, heads the Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) tutoring program to aid elementary and middle school students at the Gregory Lincoln Education Center academically and emotionally to become the best student they can be. 

Zapata went through middle school facing constant ridicule from her classmates. “Short.” “Chubby.” “Teacher’s pet.” The nonstop onslaught of insults made school unbearable to Zapata.

“I was the favorite kid of a teacher so everyone else would look at me badly,” Zapata said.

Zapata was isolated from her classmates, mocked for her high academic standing. Even with people she thought she could call friends, she was belittled for wanting to feel accepted. 

According to the Texas Tribune, Stevenson Middle School, the middle school which Zapata attended, has a 59.8 percent rate of risk of students dropping out, with most students having difficulties in core subjects, like math and English. A daughter of working immigrants, Zapata defied these odds and proved herself. 

The low test scores and the bullying issues from Zapata’s middle school may be related to the lack of diversity at the school. 90 percent of the student population is Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, and 3 percent African-American. Other factors may be the lack of support in the predominantly low-income community. 93.2 percent are economically disadvantaged. 

Gregory Lincoln Middle School, where CVHS’ BBBS members tutor also follows a similar pattern in demographics. 73.2 percent of the student population are deemed “at risk” of dropping out, and 83.4 percent are economically disadvantaged. 

A University of California, Berkeley study reveals that students surrounded by more diverse backgrounds tend to be safer, feel less lonely and are bullied less. The setting of different cultures sets a balanced environment for all students, as everyone will then feel included.

Transferring to CVHS, Zapata was immediately able to see that past experiences with bullying were finally going to be put behind her. Now, she expressed she is surrounded with helpful teachers and accepting peers of all races and ethnicities, and through that experience, became a more well-rounded person. CVHS has a diverse background with a student population that is 32 percent Hispanic students, 30 percent  Caucasian, 25 percent Asian and 9 percent African-American. Along with the help of teachers and tutors, the students of Carnegie Vanguard have managed to make the school’s standard average standardized test score of 95 percent. 

By the start of Zapata’s junior year, she and her friends had the idea to start a new project. A project that aims at helping struggling students get a better footing on their educational path. Big Brothers Big Sisters Club started last year with this goal in mind. Three days a week, members of BBBS tutor students from grade 1 to 8 in reading and math at Gregory Lincoln Middle School. Because Gregory Lincoln is a school that closely parallels Zapata’s Stevenson Middle School, making  Zapata’s desire to help the students even stronger.


Ximena Zapata tutors Gregory Lincoln 8th graders math in the middle school library. (Photo: Allegra Fernandez/ Upstream)


Members of BBBS, including Jabriel Alghafir and Obed Alghafir tutor Gregory Lincoln 8th graders in the middle school library. (Photo: Allegra Fernandez/ Upstream)

Along with Zapata, the group of tutors have demonstrated positive social and emotional effects on the students attending Gregory Lincoln. The students now gain access to extra help they can’t find elsewhere.

“It’s like from low-income kids, you know, they don’t really get a lot of help. I know that I’ve seen that they’ve gotten better because of what the teachers have told us. However, there will always be a few losses. At the end of the summer, the girl that was actually going to the club for tutoring, she dropped out of school,” Zapata said. 

Now as time goes on, the club has only grown and improved.

From last year to now, Zapata has been a dedicated member of BBBS and continues to strive and become a better tutor for students. Inspiration from her past experiences in school motivates her to help kids so that they don’t go through what she did. 

“The most memorable thing I have done was basically getting to know them, volunteering, helping them. It was like the main thing that has impacted me and is what  I enjoy doing,” Zapata said.