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Senior Spotlight: Heidy Jaimes Garcia, Ragsdale High

Heidi GarciaHeidy Jaimes Garcia cried. She couldn’t help it.

She knew she was going to graduate from Ragsdale High Friday, June 9, and she knew would be going to college. And of course, she knew she’d tell her share of classmates and professors how to pronounce her first name if they asked.

“It’s not Heidi, it’s Hay-DEE,” she’d say. “Like Haiti, the country.”

But what she didn’t know was where she was going, and it was the last week in April. She still had no idea.

She couldn’t rely on her parents for advice. They had never been to college, didn’t know anything about the college application process, and they could barely speak English.

But she could rely on her teachers. And she had. They had helped her a lot. But when crunch time came to decide on where to go, Heidy cried. She wanted to go to N.C. State so bad that she kept checking and rechecking her financial aid application.


The next day following her time with tears, she was about to commit to another in-state university. But she wanted to check her financial aid application with N.C. State one more time.

She clicked on the university’s website and spotted something new on her application: a big number. It confounded her. She had no idea what that big number meant.

She then remembered the advice she got from Clifford Carroll, her business teacher at Ragsdale.

“Make sure you call the financial aid office,” he told her. “Ask them nicely, they’ll help you. They’ll guide you through it.”

So, she called the office once again. She got the surprise of her young life.


The Unforgettable Phone Call

“Excuse me,” she said to the voice on end of the phone. “I saw this big number on my financial aid application. Is that how much you’re going to give me or is that how much I owe?”

After a few seconds of silence, Heidy got her answer.

“Oh,” the financial aid officer responded, “It looks like you got a full ride.”

“No way!” Heidy cried out. “Wait a minute. What!? Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for your help!

“Sure,” the officer said. “Yes, that’s what that number means. You got a full ride. Congratulations!”

Heidy hung up and started screaming. She ran immediately into her mother’s room.

“I got a full ride to N.C. State!” she yelled in Spanish. “I’m going to Raleigh. N.C. State. That’s where I really wanted to go.”

Her news excited her mom. But not Erick, her 6-year-old brother.

“I don’t want you to go to college!” he wailed.

Immediately, she knew why.


Heidy, The Tutor

Heidi GarciaSince her junior year at Ragsdale, Heidy had tutored Erick at least 30 minutes to an hour every afternoon. She helped Erick learn how to read and write, add and subtract, and learn his letters. She also helped him learn how to speak and write in English.

She was proud of how his English improved. He was able to speak it so well that began to act as an interpreter for their dad.

So, she understood his wail.

“I have to go to college,” she told him. “I have to.”

Erick hugged Heidy hard. She then hugged her mom. She was going to college. Heidy liked the sound of that.

She would become first in her family to attend college, and with the help of two scholarships and four grants, she would have enough to cover her college costs for her freshman year at N.C. State.

She knew she needed it.

Heidy is the oldest of three, the only daughter. Her mom, Maria, is a stay-at-home mom; her dad, Eulalio, is an employee with a landscaping company. At N.C. State, Heidy knows what she has to do every year: Apply for as many scholarships as she can.

But she knew she could do it. She already has.

“I was so shocked,” Heidy says today of her phone conversation on the last Thursday in April. “The day before I was crying because I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do. The next day, I check my financial aid at N.C. State, and I hear I got a full ride. I was like ‘What?’”

Yes, what. But how?

It’s the teachers and counselors at Ragsdale High. They helped Heidy make it happen.


Overcoming Fear

Heidi GarciaHeidy enrolled in Ragsdale the second semester of her sophomore year. She came from R.J. Reynolds High in Winston-Salem, and she and her family moved from an apartment in Winston-Salem to a more spacious home in High Point.

Heidy liked that. She no longer had to share a room with her teenage brother, Isai. She would have her own room. But she was leaving her friends and the familiar in the city where she was born, and she was going to a place where she didn’t know a soul.

She also would start at a new school as the global pandemic entered its second year. She enrolled at Ragsdale and began taking online classes. Ragsdale was full of unknowns. It scared her.

That’s when she met Stu Johnston, her math teacher and an educator with 20 years of teaching experience.

“I teach math... but most importantly, I teach children,” Johnston wrote on his website. “Your physical, mental, and emotional well-being are the most important things to me.”

Heidy felt that. She became more relaxed and felt comfortable enough to ask Johnston if she could meet with him one-on-one on Zoom to get some help on math. He agreed. They met over the computer screen at 7 one night.

“It was a heavy weight lifted off my shoulders,” Heidy says today of what she discovered at Ragsdale. “I was scared. But after talking with Mr. Johnston, I knew it was going to be OK.”

By her senior year, it had only gotten better.


Heidy’s Support System

Mischa Miles, her honors English teacher, coaxed Heidy to join Ragsdale’s Writers Club. She told Miles she wasn’t much of a writer, but Heidy ended up enjoying it. She even became part of the student staff who wrote, designed, and published The Prowl, the school’s newspaper that started this year.

Heidy also joined school’s Drama Club. She met Ragsdale’s theater teacher Jason Reynolds. Like her, Reynolds was Hispanic. Heidy felt she met a kindred spirit. She 

She'd memorize monologues, and Reynolds made her feel at home in class.

Beth Johnson, her calculus teacher, saw Heidy struggling and sat down with her. She explained problems slowly, and Heidy began to understand.

When Heidy started applying for college, Miles helped Heidy understand the mechanics of writing an essay and stayed with her after school to help. Miles also wrote Heidy a letter of recommendation.

Then there was Carroll, her business teacher. He scared her at first because of how strict he was. But he encouraged her, she warmed up to him and later drummed up the courage to ask if he would help her with her college application process.

He said yes.

“He was like an older parent guiding me through stuff,” she says. “When I’d get stressed about college, I asked him to read my essays, and he told me, ‘You have to make yourself stand out. How can you make it stand out?’”

She had an idea. She wrote about her journey back to America.


Looking Back, Going Forward

Heidi GarciaAfter being born in Winston-Salem, she along with her mom and little brother, Isai, left Winston-Salem and moved back to Mexico. Dad stayed behind to work. Heidy, who was 3 at the time, reacquainted herself with her culture and surrounded herself with family.

Her grandmother cooked chicken with spicy, sweet red sauce that made her kitchen smell like chocolate, and her grandfather picked her and her cousins up from school. She and her cousins ate strawberry ice cream and played tag.

She loved it. By age 10, though, her parents decided Heidy and her brother should move back to Winston-Salem with their mom. Her parents believed that she and Isai, who was 7 at the time, would get a better education and a better life in America.

Plus, they’d see snow. Heidy was excited about snow.

Heidy wrote about her journey back in her college essay.

“As I walked hand in hand with my mom and dad, my new teacher guided us to my classroom,” she wrote, explaining her return to Winston-Salem as a fifth grader. “A sea of eyes stared in my direction as soon as the teacher opened the door. I froze in my place, and a myriad of emotions rushed through my body.

“I kissed my parents goodbye and watched them leave with tears in my eyes, knowing that I’d be starting this new chapter on my own. With only knowing how to say ‘Hello,’ I sat down and my first day of 5th grade in America started.”

She wrote about her journey forward, too.

“My dream is to become someone people can rely on. I want to help people all around the world. By going into the chemistry field, I have the opportunity to do that. Although people find chemistry hard, I find satisfaction in it.

“Having to balance equations or knowing how to classify each element. To expand my knowledge and perhaps even develop something that could help the world would be a worldwide victory.

“For now, I hope my first day in college will another memory I will cherish forever.”

After going through the college application process, Heidy has gained a deeper understanding of herself and her family.  

She’s learned she’s more independent than she originally thought.

She wants to inspire her brothers to go to college, and she wants to do for them what Ragsdale’s teachers did for her.

She’s also become even more grateful about her parents’ decision on coming back to North Carolina.

She wrote about her gratitude for The Prowl’s poetry night, a fundraiser for the newspaper. She mentioned it in one line in her poem titled, “College.” But that one line says much.

“My parents came here with nothing, for me to be something.”

For Heidy, that’s happened.