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On a cold January morning in 2012, Jose Quiroz Yanez was apprehensive as he entered his third grade classroom in Longmont for the first time. Just a few weeks prior, Jose had immigrated to the U.S. from Guanajuato Mexico, with the dream of someday having the opportunity to attend college.
“It felt daunting to start school without knowing anybody, and in a completely new country and environment,” shared Jose. Little did he know, those first few steps down the hallway of Spangler Elementary School would eventually lead him all the way to one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
SUCCESS FOR EVERY STUDENT
Jose’s academic journey began the same as many students across the world – first day butterflies and unease as he navigated an unfamiliar space with unknown faces. But for Jose and many other students, those new-kid nerves are magnified when the classroom posters and teacher’s lessons are in a language they do not understand.
“I got here and I just envisioned myself walking into a classroom full of people who didn’t know how to speak any Spanish,” shared Jose. “I thought I was going to be alone.”
Everything changed the day that Jose’s teacher called on him to read in front of the class.
“My teacher handed me a book and asked me to read a few pages to the whole class out loud. I was shocked that she asked me because I didn’t know how to speak English or the correct pronunciation, but she insisted that I could do it,” shared Jose. “I stood in front of the class and tried to read from the book as best as I could. When I was done reading, I was nervous that they were going to think ‘he doesn’t know how to do it,’ but my classmates and teacher all clapped for me and cheered me on. That really encouraged me to continue to learn the language and to not give up, to see that it was possible and I was not alone.”
Through the support of his teacher and classmates, Jose went on to become one of the top readers in his class and demonstrated full English proficiency by fifth grade.
EXCELLENCE BY DESIGN
Jose’s story exemplifies the power of public education to change lives through opportunity, access, and community. Every child has unique strengths, challenges, and experiences that they bring with them into the learning environment. For some, it is learning English while experiencing significant life changes. For others, it may be neurodiversity or a special learning ability. A school community represents the spectrum of differences and identities in our society – race, ethnicity, language, religion, ability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or economic status. Success is achieved when all students have access to the resources and opportunities that will advance their future in our globalized, competitive world.
“There is definitely help out there and I’ve seen that throughout all my years in St. Vrain,” added Jose. “If you set your mind to something, there is nothing that you can’t do.”
St. Vrain Valley Schools has long prioritized resource investment in programs, environments, and people that would provide the highest quality education for all students. Some of the most important factors impacting student achievement are access to high-quality early childhood educational experiences, a strong and diverse teaching staff, and the implementation of rigorous focus programs and engaging co-curricular activities that create a sense of belonging and community.
For more than a decade, St. Vrain has offered high-quality preschool programs and full-day kindergarten in every school community. Research has shown that robust early childhood education programs are pivotal to giving students a strong foundation for academic growth, and full-day kindergarten programs substantially improve reading and mathematics achievement – determinants of long-term academic success.
Second only to a student’s family, teachers have one of the greatest impacts on a child’s educational outcomes and experience in school. St. Vrain has a nationally-recognized professional development program, focused on continuing to build teacher capacity to support outstanding instructional practices, while also recognizing and supporting the needs of a diverse student community. Additionally, to strengthen and expand the teaching workforce by recruiting future teachers within the community, St. Vrain launched a Pathways to Teaching (P-TEACH) program that gives high school students a head-start on their career as an educator through concurrent enrollment credit at the University of Colorado Denver, and unique experiential learning and mentorship opportunities.
Jose also experienced many other changes and resource investments first-hand. In 2015, St. Vrain closed Spangler Elementary, and Jose and his classmates transitioned to Timberline PK-8 to begin fifth grade. The district invested millions of dollars into the renovation of Jose’s new school, turning it into an exceptional environment for student learning. These changes were part of a larger initiative to transform the Skyline Feeder system, with significant upgrades to school buildings and classrooms, implementation of STEM-focus programming, and the opening of the district’s Innovation Center through the $16.6 million Race-to-the-Top grant, and the $3.6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant.
St. Vrain Valley Schools also opened the first Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program west of the Mississippi at Skyline High School in 2016 (in computer information systems), and has since added a program at Frederick High School (in biochemistry) and Silver Creek High School (in cybersecurity). P-TECH is a new type of school that brings together the best elements of high school, college, and the professional world, allowing students to earn a high school diploma, as well as an associate degree, at no cost to the student. The program includes significant internship and mentorship opportunities alongside industry partners, giving students a head start in their career after completing the program.
Jose’s educational journey in St. Vrain continued when he was accepted into the second P-TECH cohort at Skyline High School, and would become the first in his family to enroll in a college course. When reflecting on his first day of ninth grade, Jose shared, “I was scared all over again. It would be my first day of high school, but it would also be my first day of college.”
Throughout his four years of high school, Jose excelled in the P-TECH program and this past spring, received his Associate of Applied Science in Computer Information Systems from Front Range Community College two weeks before his high school graduation.
WELCOME TO HARVARD
In addition to the support from his teachers and classmates, Jose also credits his success to his family, including the strength of his mother, and the unwavering love of his grandparents. It had long been Jose’s dream to attend college, and with one diploma already in hand, Jose set his sights on Harvard. However, when it became time to submit his application, his grandfather had been hospitalized with COVID-19.
“All I wanted to do was be with my family. I didn’t want to do schoolwork or be in my room writing college essays, so I almost didn’t apply,” shared Jose. “But then I remembered something my mother told me. My grandfather would always speak very proudly of me to anyone who would listen, how great of a grandson I am, and how great of a student I was. My mother told me that ‘he would want you to do it, not for him, not for me, but for yourself, because this has been a dream of yours for a very long time.’”
In the weeks after he submitted his application, Jose mourned the passing of his grandfather, while continuing to focus on finishing his associate degree, and completing his final semester of high school. On April 7, he got an alert that would change his life and mark the beginning of a new academic journey.
“There is a big red button that says view application update. I stared at the button for a little while, just waiting to click it,” shared Jose. “When I did, there was this big congratulations and a giant red box saying ‘Welcome to Harvard.”
Almost a decade after Jose first walked into Spangler Elementary School, the butterflies and nerves that come with starting your first day of school would return, only this time he would be walking the halls of Harvard University on a full scholarship.