Why Ocala Middle School Matters

by Oscar Leon

Editor’s note: Oscar Leon is the principal of Ocala Middle School, the focus for this year’s Project Inspire – an annual tradition at NVIDIA that puts our people to work in the community around us. This year, our investment of $500,000 in labor and materials at Ocala has unlocked another $1 million in support from various government and nonprofit agencies for additional improvements at the school.

A play structure at Ocala Middle School.

In spite of all the challenges that our students have in their environment, they want to be here. It’s my responsibility, and the responsibility of the rest of our staff, to provide the well-rounded education that they deserve.

When we have students working on projects to launch rockets or participating in programs like Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA), it’s inspiring to see that – yes – every student is capable of doing it.

But when you have a blacktop where it’s hard to play basketball because it has cracks, or when you go to the soccer field or the softball field and you have to be careful where you step because of the numerous holes, it’s not conducive to having a safe place for students and families to be around.

Our students already have their share of challenges. At Ocala, more than two-thirds of students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches. Even at their young age, some kids are being recruited by street gangs.

See also – Project Inspire: A New Model for Civic Funding? 

To me, education is the only way to provide the resources and opportunites for students to make the playing field as level as possible. What I’ve found is that when a child isn’t living up to their full potential, it’s often not because they don’t want to. It’s not because their parents don’t want them to. It’s because they never had the opportunity to make it happen. Sometimes, we all have to find ways to play that additional role.

Lockers at Ocala Middle School.
Lockers at Ocala Middle School.

Now we’re seeing changes that will give students, and teachers, an environment that better supports them, that sends a message that they have that support to live up to their potential. For the past few months, it’s like a snowball rolling down a mountain, getting larger as it goes.

Because of the commitment, the dedication and the willingness from NVIDIA, suddenly a small project has become something that isn’t just going to change a small portion of our school’s outdoor field – but also the rest of the school, and even the larger community.

It sends a message that this cannot be done alone, and we all have to be passionate about education. It’s inspiring to know that it’s not just us. It’s students, it’s teachers, it’s the community, it’s NVIDIA, and it’s the city of San Jose behind us.

Thank you.