At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for March: Paulina Zepeda. Read more about Paulina’s experience as an advocate and activist.

Paulina Zepeda (right) with LEV Community Organizer Micaela Razo
Paulina Zepeda (right) with LEV Community Organizer Micaela Razo

Paulina Zepeda is a high school student in the Grandview School District. That sounds pretty straightforward, until you learn that Paulina had to advocate to be allowed to attend school.

Paulina immigrated to Grandview from Colima, Mexico, two years ago. She was in high school in Colima, but because she was 18 years old when she arrived in Washington, she was told that she could not continue high school despite having transfer papers with class and grade information.

Paulina kept fighting to be able to attend school, and the school district eventually allowed her to attend but ignored her transcript from Colima and enrolled her in elective classes rather than core credits that would allow her to graduate.

The League of Education Voters’ Yakima Valley-based community organizer Micaela Razo met Paulina while substitute teaching and noticed the difficulties Paulina was facing in the classroom.

Together and with the help from one of the teachers at the school, they came up with a plan for Paulina to be able to graduate (with a delay of one year) by taking the correct core classes and attending summer school. She will now be able to graduate and attend community college to get the courses she needs to be eligible to attend a four-year college.

In January, Paulina jumped at the chance to testify in Olympia on the college and career ready diploma, saying, “I wanted the legislators to see how much it hurts to have to put your dreams on hold. And I want to prevent what happened to me from happening to others—when students have a defined path to follow toward a meaningful high school diploma, they have a better chance at attaining their dreams and having a successful future.”

LEV State Field Director Kelly Munn says she was blown away by Paulina’s testimony, as well as her poise and strength: “Paulina drove across the state to testify to a legislative body that doesn’t really understand her background or her life. And even though she’s not comfortable speaking publicly in English, her second language, she took a risk and took a stand. It’s voices like hers that paved the way for the bill on a college and career ready diploma, SB 6552, to be voted out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday.”

Paulina has high hopes for the future. She says wants to study immigration law at Harvard and advocate for immigrants across the country.

In the meantime, she plans to continue advocating for others in Washington, so that each student has equal access to a high-quality public education. “You shouldn’t have to fight to get an education,” she says. But as long as a fight is necessary, you’ll find Paulina on the frontlines.

Below is Paulina’s testimony in favor of a college and career ready diploma:

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