"I wanted to go to college. I really did. I was planning on either going to maybe a community college or University of Memphis."
But his grades and test scores lagged. He says he took the ACT test in the 11th grade and made a 16, lower than the national average of 21.
Students often do better if they take the test more than once, but Augustin didn't persist.
"I got mad at myself, upset. I was hoping to get higher. I didn't want to try anymore after that."
The timing of his graduation from Central in 2010 was bad, too. The recession had hit the construction industry hard, and his father was going through long stretches of unemployment while his mother worked cleaning houses.
"My mom, she was the one who told me to take a break, at least a year, to help them out."
For a time he labored as a roofer every day. "I didn't know what the date was. What month we were in. I didn't care if it was a holiday or not, because we still had to get up the next day and work."
Now he earns $10 per hour as a landscaper and gives $100 per week to his parents.
He drives the truck past Kingsbury High School, a test site for the Lumina Foundation project.
The foundation is paying for a mentor who will work with the school's Hispanic youth and their families for four years.
A similar mentor will work at Southwest Tennessee Community College, and the foundation will use the results of the experiment in Memphis and other sites to guide policy nationwide.
Augustin Lopez says hiring mentors is a good idea.
"It's hard to go to college, get everything done, do everything you need to do.
A different outlook
Though some Mexican immigrant families press children to go to work, others encourage them to study. One example is 18-year-old Miguel Angel Lopez, who recently graduated from Southwind High School.
Though he shares the same family name as Augustin Lopez, they're not related, and their outlooks are different, too. Miguel Angel Lopez plans to enroll this fall at Southwest Tennessee Community College, and sees it as the first step toward becoming a neurosurgeon.
"Well, not just a neurosurgeon. I want to become the best neurosurgeon."
He says a dissection class sparked his interest, and that teachers supported him.
"They would push me beyond what I thought I could go. Told me I could do stuff that I didn't think I could do it."
He came to this country at age 10 without knowing any English. His father, Luis Alfonso Lopez, says everyone in the family has legal immigration status.
Both parents studied accounting in Mexico, though they work in less prestigious jobs in Memphis - the father is a forklift driver in a warehouse and the mother cooks in a restaurant.
Miguel Angel Lopez says he went through periods where he didn't study hard, and that his ACT score and GPA were too low to qualify for Tennessee's lottery-funded Hope scholarship. But he says he plans to work part-time to finance his studies, and that his parents are willing to help.
"They told me that it doesn't matter if they have to get two jobs to pay for it."
Find a way
Back in Binghamton, Augustin's mother, Patricia Lopez, says the construction business has rebounded somewhat, but money is still tight. Her husband is now 50 and hampered on the job by an old bullet wound in his shoulder.
"There are days when he's in a lot of pain," she said.
They've turned to government help for health insurance and food.
"We're really not people who like to depend on the government," she said. "We don't like it. But the economic situation made us ask for help because with six children it's not easy."
Augustin Lopez says his girlfriend is urging him to go back to school. He's not sure.
"Just like everybody, I'm just scared I won't do good," he said. "And also if I go to school, I won't be able to work like I am now. It will be less money for my family."
His mother said she wants Augustin and her younger children to find a way to study.
"What I told them is that they should try to find out if there's some way that they could get a scholarship. Because otherwise it's not possible."
She holds out hope that it will happen. Porque es bien importante , she says in Spanish.
Because it's very important.
Most Popular Stories
- 2014 World Cup Official Noisemakers Quieter than Vuvuzelas
- Saab Gets Back into the Game; U.S. Auto Sales Soar
- Authorities Close to Deal with JPMorgan Chase over Madoff Response
- Apple Activates Customer-Tracking iBeacon
- It's No Yolk: Food-tech Startups Take Aim at Replacing Eggs
- 2013 Tech Gift Guide: iPad Mini Still Hot; Chromecast a Great Low-Cost Option
- Dell Offers Undisclosed Number of Employee Buyouts
- A Biography of Jonathan Ive, Apple's Creative Chief
- Ad Counts Rise in 2013 for Hispanic Magazines
- Networks Vie for U.S. Hispanic TV Viewers