PLEASANTVILLE — Dressed in her Army blue coat and gray shirt, decorated heavily with ribbons, pins and medals, Gloria Salazar Ramirez grinned as she showed a photo of a new haircut she was considering.
Although her long and shiny black hair was parted in the middle and tied back in a low ponytail, the 15-year-old wanted her new style to go bold. Shoulder-length with bright blonde highlights, a post-breakup look.
“It’s a new beginning,” Gloria said with a smile.
Gloria is open and honest about her life, sharing personal experiences, even with a reporter whom she has only met once before.
She is one of several teens from Pleasantville High School who has agreed to participate in a series of stories about the school and life in the city from a student’s perspective.
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The Pleasantville JROTC Battalion Commander takes school and life pretty seriously, but she said she wasn’t always that way.
“I used to be a very nasty kid,” Gloria said, until she joined the training corps for young aspiring Army officers.
She was seated on a stool inside the JROTC classroom one Wednesday afternoon.
Behind her were dozens of trophies and awards that the JROTC here had earned over the years at drill competitions. Gloria’s brown eyes widened when she spoke about the upcoming home competition, in which she gets to hand out trophies at the end.
She likes to be a leader, and recalled a story her dad often tells her from when she was in kindergarten. The class was told to settle down, and when a classmate wasn’t listening, Gloria walked over and sat him down.
“I’ve always had that bossiness in me, but there’s a difference between being bossy and being a leader,” Gloria said.
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The teen is thoughtful when she speaks, closing her eyes and pausing to pick the right word.
“When you’re a leader, you can’t curse at someone, or you can’t force them to do something. You have to find a way to talk to them or to use your leadership skills to make them see the authority figure in you,” she said.
Being a junior and leader of the JROTC is prestigious and can be stressful, but Gloria said it also gives her a chance to get away from her responsibilities at home and meet new people.
And it will help her when she applies to college, which the junior is already thinking about: UCLA, Tampa and New Jersey City University in Jersey City.
“My eighth grade history teacher, he told me if I ever want to be successful I needed to get out Pleasantville because Pleasantville wasn’t the place to be successful,” Gloria said.
She has heard the same from other people, too.
Hearing that hurt her, Gloria said.
“It’s hard to get away from your hometown, but if I want to buy my mom a house or if I want to buy my dad a car, it’s true,” she said.
Gloria said she wasn’t optimistic for the city she calls home to see a turnaround from crime, violence and gangs.
She said she doesn’t think there is a fix for Pleasantville anymore. The teenager said that the violence she experiences near her southend home frightens them both her and her 2-year-old niece, whom she often babysits.
“There’s shooting going on, I have neighbors who are drug dealers and there’s cops in the neighborhood almost every other day,” she said. “She gets scared very easily so I try to put the TV on and put up the volume, distract her from it because it’s not good for a 2-year-old to be raised like that.”
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Gloria said her parents would like to move, to buy a house in another town, but she wants to wait until high school is over.
“I have my spot here in JROTC, and I like the school. It’s a good school,” said Gloria. “It just gets a bad reputation. Problems are in any school, it’s just how you handle the problems.”