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I wanted multimedia elements, but I was worried about distracting the reader away from the 'core' of the story, which was about Isaias' personality and dilemma about college. All of the photos were chosen because they say something about who Isaias is: thinker, musician, big brother, boyfreind. In many ways he's a normal kid, except he's not a legal U.S. citizen.

story by Daniel Connolly | photos by Karen Pulfer Focht | December 19, 2013

Isaias Ramos was an accomplished student, near the top of his class at Kingsbury High School. But like many Hispanic youths, his talent and academic prowess didn’t necessarily mean college was the next step. Isaias faced an important decision at a very young age – one that would affect the rest of his life.

Inside a college counselor’s office at Kingsbury High School, on the day last spring set aside to celebrate its best students, a 29-year-old English teacher began to cry.

Jacklyn Martin’s tears came for Isaias Ramos, for the most brilliant student of her young career — a senior, brought from Mexico at age 8, who had received many of the top awards at his school’s Class Day.

Despite months of prodding, despite scoring a 29 on the ACT, despite a girlfriend in the junior class intent on college, Isaias had told Martin he no longer planned to pursue a higher education. He would no longer traverse the college admissions obstacle course that is made even more difficult for those, like Isaias, who was brought to the U.S. illegally.

Isaias’ declaration made Martin confront a disturbing question: If a student like Isaias would not be attending college, why was she even teaching?

Listen: English teacher Jacklyn Martin, on why she cried over Isaias' college decision.

Martin had coached Isaias and his teammates when they went on local TV to compete in the Knowledge Bowl. She’d come to identify with him, and they’d talked about Kermit the Frog’s line about being different, "It’s not easy being green."

"Stay green," Martin would tell Isaias.

When Martin honored him at that day’s award ceremonies, she had introduced him by saying: "This is one of only two students to get a perfect score on the TCAP writing test last year. This student has also shown exceptional leadership skills with our Kingsbury International Club. That would be Isaias Ramos."

She could have mentioned other accomplishments. Isaias passed the school’s hardest math class in 11th grade, joined the robotics team for fun, wrote theater scripts with his girlfriend and rented a viola just to learn to play it in his spare time. He ranked sixth in his class, was the school’s top economics student and his ACT score put him in the top 6 percent of test-takers in the United States.

Kingsbury High School Memphis Commercial Appeal

Isaias Ramos walks his younger brother, Dustin, across the street after picking him up from school. Dustin is the only member of his family born in America and could easily use a U.S. passport to travel between Mexico and Memphis. His parents plan to move back to Mexico eventually. The Pew Hispanic Center says the number of Mexicans coming to America roughly equals the number going home.

Many students had clapped and whooped when Isaias had accepted one of the awards. Some had shouted his name, using the English pronunciation, "Eye-ZAY-us!"

Relatively short and compactly built, Isaias wore glasses half-framed in silver and had brown skin and dark brown hair that tended to puff up on its own.

Listen: Javi Arcega, the lead singer in Isaias’ band, on why he dropped out of Kingsbury High School.

Graduation would take place in 22 days. Isaias planned to play keyboard with his older brother in a punk rock band called Los Psychosis. Unless something changed, his formal education would end, and the 18-year-old would join his mother, father and older brother in their tiny painting and remodeling business.

He insisted this was his choice, questioning the go-to-college gospel just as he had pushed against the culture of this strongly Christian city and his parents’ Catholic beliefs by identifying as an atheist.

"It’s not that I’m undocumented," he said. "It’s not that I feel less. If anything, I think it’s the other way, maybe because I feel above college, or like if I went to college I’d be too confined and my mind would be too diminished, too driven in one certain path. And that’s not the path I want to go on."

When he talked like this, Martin didn’t believe him.

She thought he worried about paying for college, because of state rules forbidding financial aid and in-state tuition for students like him.

Martin saw Isaias as a young man who didn’t dare to hope, and after the ceremony, she shared her frustration with Patricia Henderson, a college counselor.

Henderson had witnessed Isaias’ confused college courtship, one where admissions officers at state universities offered scholarships and in-state tuition that their institutions, ultimately, could not legally provide someone with his immigration status.

Henderson told Martin that Isaias had missed key college deadlines. The English teacher had cried, but Henderson, an energetic grandmother with a mane of silvery-blonde hair, held out hope.

"I think Isaias has this dream for himself," she said. "And it’s not going to end at the end of a paintbrush."

Same continent, new world

Kingsbury High School Memphis Commercial Appeal

Shortly before his high school graduation, Isaias Ramos, one of the brightest seniors at Kingsbury High School, decided he did not want to go to college. "I knew from a long time ago, college is not for me" he said. "I want to be rich" he said while reflecting on a plan in his minds eye, "I want to work; I want to make money."

My mother was a tailor; I spent my early years listening to the radio she played as she worked. I knew then I felt differently about many things, and music was the biggest of them. A color for every emotion; a song for every color.

Kingsbury High School Memphis Commercial Appeal

Early in the school year, a romance began to bloom between Isaias Ramos (right), a high-performing senior at Kingsbury High School, and Magaly Cruz, who was a studious junior at the time. The two are both talented musicians, and they wrote a play together that was eventually performed by other students at the school.

— Isaias Ramos, on a Sept. 12, 2012, college application essay

As young boys in the small central Mexico town of Santa Maria Asuncion, Isaias and his best friend, Ponchito, played together constantly with their two older brothers — catching frogs, floating paper boats down a creek, building dirt racetracks for their toy cars.

Their mothers would say, only half-jokingly: "Either you have to come live in my house, or I’ll go live in yours, because we can’t separate the children."

One day this past June, Ponchito, now 18, showed a reporter the house Isaias’ family abandoned a decade ago, recalling those days — and how they ended. During recess in 2003, Isaias said his family would walk through the desert and go to America.

Ponchito did not believe it until Isaias said it again, more seriously — they would have to travel light and carry water.

Even a decade later, the memory pained him.

"He was like my half-brother, almost."

A woman who had sewn for Isaias’ family, in their small textile business, had moved to Memphis and offered to help them settle. Isaias’ parents, Mario Ramos and Cristina Vargas, closed up their house, a cinder block structure with a corrugated metal roof.

A human smuggler in a nearby town agreed to take their sewing machines as payment for helping them emigrate.

Isaias remembers only pieces of the border crossing. He saw shapes emerge from the desert landscape: walls, castles, and at one point a racetrack with a Formula One car. It turned out to be a cactus and a little ditch.

His older brother, Dennis, remembers more: huddling on the floor of a pickup truck with a crush of other migrants on top of him, and seeing the driver turn the ignition with a knife.

They arrived first in Phoenix, then transferred to a van headed across the middle of North America, to Memphis. As they left the flatlands of Arkansas, Dennis, then 12, saw a bridge lit with electric bulbs and the tall buildings of a modern metropolis looming over the giant river.

Listen: Isaias on the phrase "living in the shadows" oft-associated with unauthorized immigration status.

Listen: Before he was able to legally obtain a driver's license, Isaias drove warily, avoiding police.

It seemed, Dennis said years later, like they were driving into "the mother of all cities."

Gradually, they adapted to their new city. Cristina gave birth to another son, Dustin, who would for the rest of his life carry those privileges of a United States citizen unavailable to his older brothers.

They settled into an eastern pocket of Memphis, where Mexican immigrants clustering around Jackson and Summer avenues had transformed the neighborhoods near Kingsbury High — originally opened in 1950 as an all-white school.

Authentic Mexican restaurants with colorful storefronts proliferated, and Mexican men, like Mario Ramos when he first arrived, could often be seen in parking lots waiting for contractors to hire them as day laborers.

Mario and Cristina started their own painting and remodeling business, despite speaking little English.

They had planned to spend just a few years in the United States, but they didn’t go back. The boys were doing well in school, and they lacked the money to pay for a return home.

And tightened border security meant if they left, they might never return.

Transforming America

Kingsbury High School Memphis Commercial Appeal

Isaias Ramos (center) recites the pledge of allegiance during a school program where he performed, playing piano. With him are fellow students Phalander Peoples (left) and Charnissya Lloyd. Isaias was brought to America illegally at the age of eight from Mexico. In the following 10 years he learned to speak English fluently and rose to become one of the top 10 students in his class.

A great wave of Hispanic immigration has transformed the demographics of the United States. These immigrants came from many countries, but most came from Mexico. Every day, an estimated 2,800 Hispanic babies are born in America — more than one in four newborns.

Demographers predict that some time in the next few decades, America will become a majority-minority country — and America struggles to educate minorities.

In recent years, Hispanic students at Kingsbury and across the nation earned diplomas and degrees in greater numbers, but they still lagged other groups, and as the Hispanic youth population swells, the task of educating them has taken on a new urgency. Low education levels, studies show, lead to low wages, less tax income, less demand for goods and services and less money to fund Medicare and Social Security.

At Kingsbury in 2012-13, nearly 40 percent of students were Hispanic and nearly every student regardless of ethnicity qualified for federal meal assistance programs.

Isaias was part of a core group of students exemplifying what could be achieved, despite the odds and obstacles connected to his immigration status. His senior year had begun with some at Kingsbury pushing him to apply to Harvard.

Another possibility loomed, one that teachers and counselors at Kingsbury had hoped to avert — Isaias skipping college to work in the family painting and remodeling business.

His older brother, Dennis, chose that path. Or, rather, it chose him — a fate Dennis reluctantly viewed as most likely for his brother, too.

Dennis looked and sounded like a larger version of Isaias — similar glasses, the same very slightly accented English, the same passion for music and interest in current events.

At 22, Dennis handled the family’s interactions with clients and acted as paymaster to his mother, father and younger brother.

Listen: Isaias’ brother, Dennis, on his pickup's "DARWIN" fish symbol: "My fish wasn't created. My fish evolved."

Dennis had hoped to become an engineer in the Army after graduating from Kingsbury in 2009, but his illegal immigration status stopped him. He applied for college, but public schools said he’d have to pay expensive out-of-state tuition.

His own experience deepened the skeptical nature Dennis shared with his brother. He expressed it on his late-model tan Dodge pickup, decorating it with one of those "DARWIN" magnets with tiny legs protruding from the Christian fish symbol.

Dennis had his doubts about Isaias’ educational future.

Kingsbury High School Memphis Commercial Appeal

As graduation approached, Isaias Ramos lay quietly in his bedroom, playing his guitar. Earlier in the school year, he had thought about studying audio recording at Middle Tennessee State University or the University of Memphis. A variety of adults at school had helped him apply for admission and scholarships and had taken him on college tours. But this night, as the school year came to a close, he declared, "I have already decided my life." He planned to play music and work in his family’s painting and remodeling business. He said he wasn’t afraid to take a path different than the one many bright students pursue. "I don’t want to be like them."

"I don’t want to tell this to Isaias, but I just don’t see many opportunities out there," Dennis said. "I really hope he gets one and I think he’s talking to people that may be able to help him. But I saw it. And there’s just no way. No one helps you."

Some help did arrive. President Obama’s new program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allowed the brothers to receive two-year work permits and Social Security numbers.

Based on that, Isaias received an offer of in-state tuition from Middle Tennessee State University. He assumed his second choice, the University of Memphis, would do the same. Both universities also offered academic scholarships.

Then in March, his old doubts about college resurfaced. He said he could afford it, but didn’t see the point.

There was something Isaias didn’t know.

Contrary to the formal offers from the universities, state attorneys had ruled that Deferred Action students could not receive in-state tuition and most scholarships. Even if Isaias changed his mind about college, he would have to pay more than $20,000 per year, far more than his family could afford.

‘So far away’

Kingsbury High School Memphis Commercial Appeal

Isaias Ramos and his girlfriend Magaly Cruz take a stroll at the University of Memphis on a chilly spring day. The two came to the university to participate in Canstruction, a contest in which students build sculptures out of food cans.

In Isaias’ final weeks of high school, Dennis noticed that his brother seemed excited about joining the family business fulltime and expanding it.

But on a May night before his final school day at Kingsbury, Isaias’ mood changed. He had just played keyboard with their band, Los Psychosis, at a Midtown pub. Sitting at a table afterward, he said he felt unexpectedly sad.

He spoke of how much he’d loved learning biology, calculus and Shakespeare — an expansive education available in part because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that public schools must serve children no matter their immigration status.

Isaias had attended Memphis public schools since 2003. Investment in his education — by city, county, state and federal taxpayers — ran to tens of thousands of dollars.

Isaias admitted he would miss learning.

Listen: Kingsbury principal Carlos Fuller is passionate about helping children brought into the U.S. illegally.

"It’s just sad," he said. "Even though I’m not going anywhere, it still feels like I’m going to be so far away."

But a plan had been forming among some at Kingsbury unwilling to accept his decision to forgo college.

Jacklyn Martin, the English teacher who had cried after Isaias’ declaration on Class Day, would join two other women for a visit to the Ramos house, just days before graduation.

One of them was named Margot Aleman, an emissary for Kingsbury from the evangelical Streets Ministries, which had built a multimillion dollar facility next door to the school.

Aleman had once declared that Isaias was "a freakin’ genius" and had organized an intervention, determined to see one of Memphis’ most accomplished students enroll in college.

‘We love this boy a lot’

Sometimes, trying to reach a student at Kingsbury, Margot Aleman would share her story, one far darker than her playful demeanor and dyed red hair would suggest.

She’d been sexually abused growing up in South Texas, and contemplated suicide as a teenager and young woman.

Aleman moved to Memphis in 2010 to work for Streets Ministries, which became an anchor for the Kingsbury neighborhood after opening its community center next door in 2012.

Aleman would transport kids to football and soccer games, push laggard students to complete their schoolwork, or simply show some affection. She often stood at the cafeteria door, hugging kids as they came through.

"They’re drama, they’re crazy and they’re knuckleheads, but they’re great," she said once. "I love them. They’re my babies."

When the situation called for it, she would visit their homes, and that is why, three days before the Kingsbury graduation last May, she sat at a table with Isaias and his parents — Cristina Vargas and Mario Ramos.

With her were two other women.

Jacklyn Martin, Isaias’ English teacher at Kingsbury, had brought cookies.

Jennifer Alejo, a counselor with the Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors) organization matching immigrant students with scholarships, had brought a brochure for a university representing perhaps Isaias’ final option for continuing his education.

"We love this boy a lot," Aleman began in her South Texas Spanish.

Mario replied, "We do, too!"

Everyone laughed, and Aleman could see this was a happy family.

They’d renovated the home in a modern style borrowed from wealthy neighborhoods like Germantown, where they often worked painting houses.

Kingsbury students wait at East High School Feb. 23 during a Knowledge Bowl trivia contest sponsored by the Memphis Police Department. The contest focused on black history, and the Kingsbury team members had spent hours reviewing questions such as "Who invented the Super Soaker?" Answer: Lonnie Johnson. The Kingsbury team lost its only match that day. From left: Daniel Lee Nix, Adam Truong, Isaias Ramos and Magaly Cruz. Isaias was team captiain.

Aleman had wondered whether Isaias’ parents were perhaps pressuring him to skip school, so she showed them his transcript, explaining that his ACT score of 29 out of a possible 36 was at an elite level. At Kingsbury, the average score had floated around a 15 for years.

Martin told them how Isaias wrote one essay so strong another teacher thought he must have copied it.

Then Alejo showed Isaias a maroon folder full of recruiting materials for Victory University.

Formerly known as Crichton College, the name had changed after a for-profit California-based company bought it in 2010. It occupied the grounds of a former evangelical Christian church in central Memphis, a few miles north of the city’s big university and a short drive from Isaias’ house.

Aleman pointed out the photo of a young woman in the brochure, a current Victory student on scholarship.

"Oh Bianca, yeah," Isaias said. "I never met her personally, but I know her."

Bianca Tudon had graduated Kingsbury in 2009, with his older brother Dennis. She had also been brought illegally from Mexico as a young child.

A Memphis newspaper columnist had once written about her, to advocate for the DREAM Act — proposed legislation to give legal status to some youths brought to the country illegally.

Aleman said that even at this late date, a student like Isaias could win scholarship money at Victory.

Mario’s reaction erased any question Aleman had about the father’s dreams for his son.

"In fact, I’ve been excited for a long time about having a son in the university," Mario said in his soft, gentle voice. "We’re from a family of campesinos, humble, and we didn’t have great opportunities. We had to work like donkeys."

Listen: Why college? Despite his sparkling academic transcript, Isaias Ramos questioned the go-to-college gospel.

Isaias’ father had spent much of his childhood fetching wood and feeding animals and made it only to the sixth grade. Many of his siblings had died before they reached adulthood, and he’d left his home at age 12.

Isaias’ mother had left her home village to work in a nearby town as a maid and go to middle school. She made it to ninth grade.

Isaias had mostly sat silent, feet crossed the piano bench he’d brought from his bedroom, where he kept his keyboard.

When Aleman asked him to explain why he didn’t want to go to college, Isaias said he would rather go into real estate and build wealth at a young age than devote years to college only to start at the bottom of a company.

"People who say that money is no matter to them, that they don’t care about money," Isaias said, "but they still get up in the morning to pay their bills, like they look forward to their paycheck so they can buy a Snickers bar or go somewhere, or go Downtown?

"Like, do I want to be part of that? I really don’t."

One by one, everyone around the table made a case for college — a business degree could open doors, college life could cultivate important contacts.

Martin, the English teacher, pointed out money wasn’t everything: "I went to college because I liked learning."

His mother said, "It could be that it helps you, makes things easier. We ignorant people don’t know anything, but you do."

The parents thanked the women and said they would talk privately with Isaias, but his father had made clear his preference.

"If it were up to me," he had declared, "I would grab him by the ears and throw him in the university."

‘Getting a decent education’

Kingsbury High School Memphis Commercial Appeal

Isaias Ramos pauses in his kitchen following an intense intervention by three women who visited his family’s home, met with his parents and encouraged him to expand his opportunities by going to college. Margot Aleman of Streets Ministries urged Isaias not to make a decision he would regret later.

In his bedroom, with his keyboard by the window and a pile of drums in the corner, Isaias began tapping a message into his smartphone.

Logged into his Facebook account, he hit a button and a quote bubble flitted onto its small screen, the recipient’s name at top: Bianca Tudon. Isaias explained he was the brother of one of her Kingsbury classmates and that he had questions about Victory University.

About half an hour later, his cellphone went "Zing." Bianca had replied:

Hey. Yes I remember you. I just saw you at Jerry’s Sno Cones lol. Anyway, yes I will tell you all I know.

In 2009, Bianca had finished second in her class, and Kingsbury principal Carlos Fuller still kept her vivid painting of blues musician B.B. King hanging in his office.

But she couldn’t get in-state tuition at public universities, and, post-graduation, she cleaned houses before becoming a secretary in a law firm.

She’d enrolled in 2012, after her father heard an about Victory on Spanish-language radio.

Over the course of the next hour, they would trade messages, Isaias lying on his bed with the smartphone and Bianca at her house, on a laptop computer.

Bianca told Isaias she could put him in touch with a friend who studied business, that courses at Victory were hard, the teachers nice, that books cost a lot but he could find cheaper copies at

I had never considered Victory University but I am very grateful to be there now. I am getting a decent education for free.

I think you’re absolutely right about getting decent education. That’s my biggest concern, right up there with costs. I would not want to waste anyone’s time and money if I don’t get back what I put in.

It was past 11 p.m., and Isaias had to be up at 6, for work.

Thank you so much Bianca, seriously. I absolutely appreciate this.

‘Life is all a risk’

The next day, Margot Aleman sent out her own text message.

Isaias Ramos is going to college!!! I am taking him to Victory today at 3:30 p.m.!! Thank you!!!!

Jacklyn Martin texted, too:

I’m SO FREAKING happy. :-)

Kingsbury High School Memphis Commercial Appeal

Isaias and his parents toured Victory University in May, shortly after visitors came to the house to urge him to apply. The Ramos parents had largely let Isaias and his counselors handle his college search, but they were shocked and disappointed when Isaias told them shortly before high school graduation that he didn’t want to go. His parents both dreamed of giving their sons more opportunity than they had themselves. Mario was only able to attend school to the 6th grade, his wife Cristina only made it to 9th grade.

But the visit to Victory brought no guarantees. Isaias still had to earn the scholarship, and the following day — 24 hours before Kingsbury’s graduation — he pulled out a composition book and began jotting notes for an application essay.

He scribbled most of them in English, his handwriting vivid, like a practiced cartoonist.

"Theme of paper: Life is all a risk."

One note, he jotted in Spanish.

"¡ Pues ya tranquilo estoy!" Meaning: "Well, I’m at peace now!"

He moved from bedroom to living room, to use the family computer.

"I never wanted to be a burden on my parents, and I never wanted to lay the responsibility of a college tuition on them."

Jacklyn Martin would read the essay later and see it as evidence that her hunch about Isaias was true — he did want to attend college but did not want to risk disappointment.

"Learning has always been a passion of mine. I am absolutely in love with learning and expanding my mind beyond my comfort zone."


Kingsbury High School Memphis Commercial Appeal

Isaias Ramos participated in his high school graduation ceremony with his fellow classmates at the Orpheum theater in downtown Memphis. Isaias shows great potential for a bright future. He is intelligent, he loves to read, he loves to learn and he believes he will always continue to teach himself about the things he wants to learn about. But on the day of his graduation, he was still not sure if he would go to college.

The following day, a Saturday, his parents and brothers found seats near the front of the Orpheum, the city’s grand old Downtown theater.

Isaias received his diploma and joined his classmates by throwing his maroon graduation cap into the air, his face joyous.

He stepped outside, where streetcars clanked by on Main Street, and crowds of people walked to the riverside for the city’s famous barbecue contest.

Margot Aleman, the Streets Ministries emissary from South Texas, found Isaias. Ten years earlier, as a little boy, he crossed the big, brilliant bridge with his family, unable to speak English, unaware of how leaving the small town in central Mexico would forever change him.

Now here he stood — a young man, a brilliant student, an aspiring musician.

A Memphian, filled with promise.

Aleman wrapped Isaias in a hug, and held him for a long time.

Independence Day decision

The call came on July 3, from Adriana Garza, a 60-year-old grandmother born in Mexico who worked for Victory University.

Victory wanted Isaias to enroll. It would pay him a full scholarship and place him in the honors program.

When Garza found the family later the same day, working outside their house, she discovered Isaias had not yet informed his parents.

When Garza reminded Isaias the scholarship value was $50,000 and asked if he was happy, she remembers that he said, "Yes, yes but I don’t know. I don’t know."

She’d seen it before. For many high-achieving children of immigrants blocked from other universities, little-known Victory was nothing close to a first choice. Sometimes she had to beg them to come.

The following day, the Fourth of July, the family worked in the morning but finished early, to go home and celebrate the holiday.

Cristina made hamburgers with thick chunks of cheddar cheese. The three Ramos brothers ate fast, then retreated to Dennis’ room to play a video game called Battlefield 4.

With the game paused, Isaias delivered a verdict on the scholarship. "Not bad. I think I’ll end up going. It can’t hurt, right?"

Outside, small American flags fluttered in the decorative metal grating of the porch pillars. The youngest son in the family, 9-year-old Dustin, the U.S. citizen, had put them there some days earlier.

When the others left later to watch fireworks in Germantown, Isaias went to visit his girlfriend, Magaly Cruz. She has a chance to be the 2014 valedictorian at Kingsbury, and plans to enroll in college next fall.

Going back, moving forward

In recent weeks, Mario Ramos and Cristina Vargas have begun teaching Dennis and Isaias the art of running a household.

"They have one year to learn," Mario Ramos said.

They never wanted to stay in America so many years and want to return to Mexico, possibly by 2015, and leave Dennis and Isaias on their own in Memphis.

Kingsbury High School Memphis Commercial Appeal

Dennis, Isaias and their mother Cristina posed for a family photo several years ago on a wintry day at Shelby Farms. They sent this image of their new country to relatives in Mexico.

Dustin, the youngest, will likely move back and forth between his parents in Mexico and his brothers in Memphis. Unlike the rest of the family members, Dustin can easily cross international borders with a U.S. passport.

On a recent Sunday, Isaias came home from a job with his family installing a tile floor at a house in Bartlett. In his room, he showed a reporter more than a dozen books he’s studying this semester and laid them in rows on the hardwood floor.

In addition to two required religion courses, he’s taking speech, history of world civilization and composition. He said he’s never read so much before, but he likes it.

"And I have a lot of fun learning. Especially the religious classes." He says he’s still an atheist but enjoys learning more about Christianity.

"You can’t talk about the world and philosophy without mentioning religion," Isaias said. "So I guess I’m kind of glad that it’s a Christian college."

So far, he’s taking required general education courses and has yet to take one in his intended major, business. He says that once he does, he’ll be able to decide whether he wants to stay for four years.

"But right now," he said, "I guess I’m just kind of like in wait-it-out moment. See what happens. Do your best. Don’t ruin your opportunity, ’cause you don’t know yet."

For the moment, he left the books lying on the floor, reminders of all that had changed, and all the changes yet to come.

Editor's Note:

For the 2012-13 school year, reporter Daniel Connolly received permission to embed at Kingsbury High School to research the lives of children of Hispanic immigrants.

One student he followed was Isaias Ramos, who was born in Mexico and held tremendous academic promise. His story illustrates the potential within America’s fast-growing Hispanic youth population — and the risk that much of it may be lost.

Connolly, who speaks Spanish, was present for most of the scenes and also traveled to Mexico. Staff photographer Karen Pulfer Focht also spent much of the school year documenting Ramos, his family and his classmates.

To read reporter Daniel Connolly's footnotes for this story, click here.