Hard Work Pays Off for Bronx High School Student with Gates Millennium Scholarship Win!

Daily News

After Erika Marte and her sisters left the Dominican Republic to join their father in New York, he wouldn't let them read or watch anything in Spanish.

"'This is a country where you only speak English. You need to get educated,'" Ramón Marte told the girls.

That discipline took Erika far: Tuesday she will be officially announced as a winner of the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship, which pays for four years of college education and expenses.

The award requires eight essays and two recommendations, and is given to 1,000 youngsters across the country.

"I was so shocked," said the Bronx 17-year-old, one of 18 recipients in the city. "I didn't think I was going to get it."

Erika came to the United States only days before 9/11, unable to speak a word of English. She lived with her father, four sisters, grandmother and three cousins in one room off the Grand Concourse.

Her mother, Jazmin Carrasco, who made a living selling chickens in the Dominican Republic, joined them, and the family moved eight times until they settled in Van Nest. Erika's mother now sells perfume, and her father is a tax preparer.

"My father would have us take out books from the library and we had to write book reports," said Erika, one of nine children.

"He would always match me with my sister Diana and we had multiplication tables we had to recite to him - and she was four years older than me!"

Her father said there was a reason he was so tough.

"From the first day she came here, I noticed how smart she was," Marte said. "She would absorb information much more quickly than anyone else."

At the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, Erika was on the debate, mock trial, softball and volleyball teams. Her favorite activity is Girls Write Now, which allows her to express herself through writing.

Erik Fogel, her debate coach and teacher, knew he would nominate Erika for the scholarship when he saw how persistent and smart she is.

"She would not just answer all the questions in class, but she would challenge and debate me," he said. "At first she was really annoying, but you knew this was one incredible student."

The bubbly scholar plans to study English literature and pre-law at upstate Hamilton College. She wants to "try law school," she said, but really dreams of becoming a teacher.

"I think I got here because of a lot of teachers I had," she said. "I would love to do that for one kid, and that one does it for another."

About The New York City Urban Debate League

Our mission is that every school should have a debate team and every student should have the opportunity to the best debate education opportunities. One of the most critical problems in education today is the academic and civic achievement gaps. Our solution is to provide the best college, career, civic, communication and community opportunities through year round academic debate. Each month we work with thousands of students and hundreds of schools. We support debate practices every day, debate centers every week, tournaments every weekend, workshops every month, debate camps all summer, and year round support for any student and teacher. We are one of the the city’s most award winning curricular and extracurricular programs. We have received awards from the White House, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Presidential Commission on the Arts and Humanities, National Institute for Museum and Library Services, The Social Index of Top 100 Nonprofits, BoardSource, Points of Light’s Civic Accelerator, Teach for America, and by the First Lady as “one of the top arts and humanities based programs in the country.” Why Debate? Debate teaches every academic skill and every academic subject. A Great Debater means a person who has the skills and confidence to lead, to speak up, to argue, to question, to read and write to right the wrongs, to know about the world around you, and to change the world around you.

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