Friday, April 15, 2016

Yonkers Youth Makes the Most of His Education

As cities go, Yonkers does get a degree of acknowledgment in terms of how tough its streets are. But when members of your extended family have actually been kidnapped by Columbian revolutionaries known as La Farc, the sidewalks here really do seem like gold and Juan Barragan has made the most of an emigration that was largely precipitated in pursuit of a more secure life.

Soon to graduate from Loyola in New York City and slated to attend Lehigh in the fall as an engineering student, the 18 year old never forgets where the foundation of his success originated. Making the decision to come to America in 1999, he says, "My parents always tried to give the best possible education so I am eternally grateful.”

It began in Pre-k as a four year old, and obviously as a child he took faster to the language than his parents. Thus, like many foreign born youngsters, getting homework help from his parents was a little more challenging at first, but not entirely.

Juan quickly developed an aptitude for math, and since fractions can’t really be lost in translation, having a mechanical engineer for a father, was an irreplaceable resource in case the syllabus ever got too rough. “My Dad was always there to help me with math and science,” he says.

By third grade and through eight, Juan was enrolled in advanced math classes, and when high school arrived, his parents made good on their education pledge. “They idolized the Jesuit education system,” he says.

Given the choice of Fordham, Xavier and Loyola, he took the one that was farthest away at 90 minutes.  With a low teacher/student ratio, he says, “I felt I could get the most out of my education.”

And more than just the numbers bear that out, according the captain of Loyola soccer team. “What I loved about Loyola is that the teachers were always there when you needed them,” says Juan.

At the same time, the daily mass transit adventure inherently had to make him a captive audience to his own homework for a solid three hours a day. Not quite, he says, “I couldn’t really work on the bus or train.”

Obviously a resourceful kid whose record is immersed in honors and advanced placement courses, the time did not go to waste. “I’d stay up late to do my work and catch up on my sleep on the bus,” he says.

Sufficiently regenerated or not by the first bell, physics is what really accelerates the pace of his rapid eye movements. “Physics explains how everything works,” he says. “I’m hoping to study civil engineering and my dream is to one day build a bridge.”

The disrepair of the Tappan Zee Bridge right up the road, he might not have to go too far in order to realize it.  But add all his academic dedication to soccer and track practice, and one must wonder when there’s time for fun. “On the weekend like any other teenager, but I find sports to be the way I always have fun,” he says.

Finals and graduation aside, Lehigh University awaits him and the future. With its strong focus on engineering, he says, “I feel like I’ll be surrounded by a whole bunch of people with similar interests.”

That said, he’s confident that he can live up to the expectations expressed in his parents’ belief in education. “As long as I stay in school and do my best, they’ll always be proud of me,” he concludes.

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