• Urban Educator logo

L.A. Students from the Same High School Headed to Yale

  • The second of six children, Mariela Barrales often accompanied her parents to work as street vendors, walking for miles every day on the streets of Los Angeles.

    “My parents work as food cart vendors, selling various Mexican delicacies like raspados [shaved ice with flavored syrup] and elotes [corn on the cob covered with mayonnaise and powdered cheese],” Barrales said in a story published by the Los Angeles School District. “They walk from street to street pushing heavy carts filled with corn, hot water, gallons of syrup, and coolers of ice. Their work is long and exhausting,” she added.

    As a child, Barrales enjoyed reading and worked hard to get good grades in school. An elementary teacher even recommended to her parents that she skip a grade. At James A. Garfield High School in Los Angles, she ran track, served four years as president of the School for Advanced Studies Council and tutored students in English at a local elementary school -- all while taking high-level courses. Mariela Barrales and her parents

    The hard work paid off for Barrales, who was valedictorian of her 2020 senior class. She was  accepted to 10 universities, and plans to attend Yale University in the fall. “When I visited the Yale campus, I knew immediately that I was in an environment that welcomed academic inquiry and promoted intellectual excitement,” Barrales recalled. 

    She plans to study political science and Spanish and, looking farther, wants to attend law school and become an immigration attorney. 

    Dealing with Tragedy

    Barrales is not the only student from Garfield High who will enroll in Connecticut’s Ivy League university this fall. Joining her will be Osvaldo Cabrales, salutatorian of the 2020 senior class, who chose Yale after being accepted to seven universities.

    Even though Cabrales has always excelled at mathematics, the journey to Yale -- where he will major in math -- was not easy. Throughout his first three years of high school, his family struggled to be together. His father had an illness that caused him to be away. “We dealt with this for about two years, as his illness grew more and more out of hand,” Cabrales said.  

    With his father absent for some time, Cabrales became the “man of the house,” helping his mother and his two younger siblings. When his father returned, the household stabilized, and last year the family traveled to Mexico for Christmas. While driving, their car overturned. Cabrales youngest brother, Margarito, 15, died in the accident. Osvaldo Cabrales

    “Margarito was a freshman at Garfield High…there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of him … I did all my classwork and continued my responsibilities; but things just weren’t and probably will never be the same,” said Cabrales. He dedicates all his success to his younger brother, whose memory pushes him to succeed. 

    Both Cabrales and Barrales have visited Yale and participated in a program called College Match, which prepared them for the SAT. In an article in La Opinión, Osvaldo noted that when they arrived at the Ivy League campus he was impressed to see and visit the cultural center "La Casa," where he felt at home. 

    In addition to attending the same high school and being accepted to Yale, Barrales and Osvaldo have something else in common. They are recipients of two prestigious national merit scholarships: the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship for outstanding high school seniors with financial need; and the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which was created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and will pay for their tuition, housing, books and fees.

    Andres Favela, the principal of Garfield High School, said he is proud of Cabrales and Barrales and that the high school has demonstrated that there are exemplary students in East Los Angeles.

    According to Favela, about 600 students in the 2020 senior class, or 97 percent, have graduated; and 90 percent have shown interest in attending a post-secondary institution. "We always try to do our best to remove negative stereotypes from our school," Favela said in La Opinión, noting that Cabrales and Barrales are examples of what Garfield can offer the world.