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Back to School: 20 Years Later
by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Column September 13, 2006

Jenni with her family at CSUN graduation 1987
Yes, it’s back-to-school time. I just didn’t think it would be me, going back to school. I mean, I graduated from college 19 years ago! I just enrolled in an Early Childhood Education (ECE) class at Santa Monica College one night a week.

As a child in school, I was often the only Japanese American student in my class. Based on that tired old stereotype, people used to call me a “brain,” which I hated, mostly because I felt that I could never measure up to that label. I was a pretty average student. Any kind of math, science, or grasping onto concepts or critical thinking was extremely difficult for me.
While some of my friends graduated from high school with honors, try as I might, I barely managed a low B average. In high school, my parents used to pay us $2 for every A, and I remember my younger sister Gayle (who is now a teacher) often getting straight A’s. I never got even close.

Like most of my peers, I went straight to college out of high school. With intentions of being a Business major at Cal State Northridge, I didn’t have the GPA to get accepted. Since I had only applied to one college, I was advised to enroll as an undeclared major, and managed to squeeze my way in.

I loved the new freedom of living in the dorms and making my own decisions. I enjoyed working part-time at a law firm while in school, and helping my parents pay for some of my living expenses. College is where I made many friends, an ethnically diverse group of women who I still consider good friends today.

But as a student, I hated college. I didn’t have a passion for business, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. As a result, I struggled through difficult Accounting, Economics, Statistics, and General Education classes that didn’t mean much to me. I got a lot of Ds and too many “no credits” in pass/no pass types of classes. I took 4 Econ classes a total of 7 times, often turning D’s into C’s. As a member of the so-called “model minority,” it was not something I was proud of.

It ended up taking me 4 years to declare my major because my grades in my major classes were so bad. My husband Tony told me that he majored in Art because he knew he could get good grades. But he is a talented artist, who eventually got a Masters in Asian American Studies and a teaching credential.

Perhaps if Asian American Studies programs had existed back then (there was only one Asian American class offered, I recall), maybe I would have done better in college. With Vietnamese, Pilipino, Korean, Chinese, Mexican and Iranian friends for the first time, I was interested in hearing how different their immigrant stories were from my own life as a third generation Japanese American. With a developing awareness in my own ethnic identity and my family’s concentration camp experience, I think I might have done well if I had been more engaged in my learning.

Now, almost 20 years later, I am working at Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) in the Child Development program. I have learned much on-the-job while managing the administration of the program—which cares for and teaches over 200 children a day in our infant/toddler center, preschool, family childcare network and family literacy program.

I am also a new mother, caring for and living with my 19-month old daughter, Maiya. Through books, Internet research, a network of online “mama” friends, and good old-fashioned trial and error, I have learned so much about child development. So at home and at work, I am totally motivated and engaged in the ECE subject matter, which made the decision to take this class very natural.

It’s only been one week, but going back to school has been easy so far. In this digital age, I was able to complete my application, add classes and pay for enrollment fees online. No long lines to wait in, or physically running from room-to-room as we used to have to do to enroll for classes back in the 80s.

The class is on a satellite campus, with a bookstore, study lounges as well as evening academic counselors if you need. The satellite campus is literally on the street I take to go home, only a few miles from my house. Parking is free and plentiful. There is only one building on this campus and the evening classes seem geared towards people who work. I think I can even get a tax deduction since it applies to my field of work and enhances my professional development.

Anyways, I'm very excited about this new development in my life. I don’t know yet what my ultimate goal is, whether I will continue to take classes along the ECE track to become a teacher, site supervisor or program director.

Or, maybe this will help me to be more creative and understanding parent, instilling a lifelong love of learning to Maiya. I am interested in seeing how my natural parenting approach fits in with early childhood education.

So we will see how I do as a wife, mother, employee... and now, part-time student. Not to mention that we are undergoing a complete kitchen renovation at home and have no stove, sink or laundry facilities. Well, I have to run, Maiya just woke up and I have to do some reading for a quiz in 2 weeks and my first assignment due in 3 weeks! Jaa mata!

Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida is the Administrative Director of Child Development at LTSC, a Community Development Corporation. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo. © 2006

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Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, September 13, 2006
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Updated: 9/18/06