Firsthand: Growing Apart

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Heydy Casado: I heard there’s a lawsuit against the schools for not letting kids stay in high school and telling them to get GEDs. It’s not fair that the city did this to me. I came to New York with dreams of finishing school, but I couldn’t. And my sister and I–we’re not close like before.

Leydy Casado: Nothing’s the same for us since we were separated.

Heydy: We’ve gone down different paths…. My sister and I are two years apart. I’m older, but in the Dominican Republic we were in the same grade at school.

Leydy: We had the same classes. Same friends. Even the same boyfriend.

Heydy: [Laughs] Not true! But our boyfriends were brothers, just like we’re sisters.

Leydy: We came to New York City six weeks after 9/11. I was 15 and Heydy was 17.

Heydy: We had both finished 11th grade in the Dominican Republic and we were going to do our senior year here. We went downtown to register and they sent us to Martin Luther King High School. The counselor there said Leydy could enroll but I couldn’t because I was going to be 18 soon. I was told to just go somewhere else and get my GED.

Leydy: Our mother didn’t understand why. She was almost fighting with the counselor but it didn’t make any difference. She was really sad about it.

Heydy: I got sent to George Washington High School to register for a GED class. I took the test there, but when I called to find out the score, they said they’d lost it. They said they would get back to me but they never did. I found another GED place but it was only four hours a week and all math. I quit after the first week. Then I went to a community organization in Washington Heights, the New Heights Neighborhood Center. They sent me to [a GED program at] Columbia University. But Columbia told me I couldn’t begin until I turned 19.

Leydy: I started Martin Luther King. The first day I was scared and lost. I’d never done anything without my big sister and it was very sad for me.

Heydy: I was sad, too. I started working at Burger King for minimum wage.

Leydy: Meanwhile, I’m in high school. I go six hours a day and I study English for three periods.

Heydy: Her English is better than mine.

Leydy: Especially my writing, because I get to practice. I’m graduating next year, then I’ll go to college.

Heydy: I finally got into the Columbia GED program when I turned 19. But the instruction was in Spanish. I’m still working at Burger King.

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