2023 Amazing Kids - Sandy
School: Sandy High School and Mt. Hood Community College
WHY SHE IS AMAZING: Laila is acquiring her associates degree from MHCC while still in high school and excelling academically. She also juggles this with working two jobs and helping out her family and single mother.
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Sandy's Laila Ramirez works hard for head start
Even at the young age of 17, Laila Ramirez is no stranger to responsibility.
She is the oldest of four siblings and plans to graduate from Mt. Hood Community College with her associate degree shortly after graduating from high school this summer.
“It’s like I’m navigating two worlds. I’m technically in high school, but I’m also a sophomore in college,” Ramirez said.
As the oldest of four siblings, Ramirez said she has never felt pressure from her mother or family to get ahead academically. Still, she has felt personally motivated by her situation. Her grandmother also lives with her and her family, making theirs a multi-generational household.
“My mom is a single mom, and my parents separated when I was 7 years old,” Ramirez explained. “When I started driving, I was helping transport my siblings. It’s changed a lot now, but my mom and I have gotten on the same basis about helping out.”
When her head isn’t in the books, or she’s not mucking horse stalls or running errands to help out at home, Ramirez works two jobs: one as a swimming instructor at the Mt. Hood Athletic Club in Sandy and one at the Small World Learning Center in Gresham.
Ramirez swam competitively in the past but is now more focused on academics. Her drive to excel is evident when you look at her GPA: a 4.2 when weighted. Ramirez has also made the Dean’s List at Mt. Hood Community College five or six times during her attendance there.
Though technically a Sandy High student, Ramirez is rarely on campus. As a sophomore in high school, she attended the Metro East Web Academy around the time she got into the middle college program.
“My mom works in the Gresham Barlow School District, and she heard about MEWA and the middle college program, so she kind of pushed me to get a head start on that,” Ramirez said.
During comprehensive distance learning, which occurred at the time, Ramirez saw MEWA and college courses as a way to “make use of schooling being online.”
“I haven’t really missed the classroom experience,” she explained. “Honors classes at the high school weren’t challenging me. I like the fast-paced responsibility and independent work that comes with college courses. It’s really only the social aspect of high school I kind of miss: spirit weeks, prom.”
Ramirez’ weekdays are quite the juggling act, with some days more work-focused and others mainly spent in the classroom.
“I kind of had to adapt,” she said. “When I didn’t have anything but school, there wasn’t as much pressure for me to study as much. I’ve figured out how to study accordingly now with a fuller schedule.”
Ramirez said she’s grateful for her early college experience.
“I’ve appreciated how much of a head start I’m getting.” She added that she also appreciates how this middle college program allows her to save her and her family money on her education.
Though she was once more interested in a path in medicine, it seems only natural that Ramirez is now interested in a math or finance career. After a dental camp she attended in 2020, she said she realized the medical field wasn’t for her, and “I decided I needed to find something I’d be happy with, which became math.”
“It was definitely a big change, and I’m grateful I figured it out then,” she explained. “I’ve looked at being a financial analyst or an actuary, but I may now be a math professor. I know whatever I do will have to do with numbers. I like the challenge, and I like seeing how the numbers work out. It’s satisfying to see your work and go back and find you got the right answer.”
While Ramirez expresses lots of gratitude about her life and where she is now, she said it hasn’t all been easy. As a biracial child, Ramirez said her last name seems to have sometimes led people to pre-judge her.
“A struggle I kind of went through — because I’m half Mexican — there have been counselors and teachers who have doubted my abilities,” Ramirez said. “I was denied entrance to an advanced math class in middle school and had to challenge that. Equity for students is a really big thing for my mom, so she’s helped me navigate that. I’m grateful I’ve had my mom there to represent me. My siblings and I, we see more of the American side of us. But with the last name Ramirez, people see me as Hispanic, and I am, but it’s kind of this weird in-between with me.”
With the prejudice she’s experienced as a student, Ramirez said that makes her even prouder of what she’s accomplished as one of few students from Sandy in the middle college program, and one of the very few Hispanic students in the program overall.
“I’m very blessed to be able to have done this,” she added.
In the spirit of equity, Ramirez said she wishes more students felt empowered and motivated to apply for the middle college program.
“I think anyone can do this regardless of their background,” she explained. “I want all kids to know everyone is capable of doing middle college. When people hear that I’m getting my associate (degree), they assume that I’m very smart. I think I’m fairly intelligent, but school is about what I put into it. I’d encourage other students to push themselves, not worry too much about how they do, and take their (journey) into their own hands. I’m sure almost all the kids in my class could do what I did if presented the opportunity.”
Up next for Ramirez, after graduating with her associate degree in the summer, is attending Portland State University in the fall.
Ramirez describes herself as “impatient to have a career” but also appreciates that she’ll be commuting to school from home so she can enjoy time still snowboarding, trying new things with her boyfriend, going out to eat, and hanging out with her family.