Born in a rural town in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, Jose Quiroz Yañez, moved to Longmont as a nine year old with his mother and two siblings.
What started as a long, winding road for an English learner in the public school system, turned into a story of success. At 19, he has now been accepted into Harvard University, where he will spend the next four years.
“Oftentimes children can feel that pressure from their families and think ‘oh my god, they did all this for me,’” said Louise March, P-TECH counselor at Skyline High School.. “Yet he was able to somehow really balance that and instead of having pressure, he turned it into gratitude.”
In Dec. 2011, Ana Lilia Yañez Lara, brought her three children to live in the United States after waiting to receive greencards, she said.
Her father, Miguel, who recently died of COVID-19, applied for her daughter’s residency when she was young, over two decades and three children later, the news of approval came back, and she packed up and moved across the border for the promise of a better tomorrow, she said.
"I knew this was a better future for them, they are still at an age where they can adjust to this new life, learn English well and focus on school," she said. “If I stayed in Mexico, I felt having the residency was going to waste, it is something very valuable. I have an opportunity, although I don't have studies or the language, I knew I could get a job because I have my social security number, I have open doors. "
Quiroz Yañez arrived into a world unknown with no understanding of the language nor the culture. Yañez Lara recalls the frustration her son’s suffering brought.
"He suffered when he arrived and I hoped that little by little he would feel better about the things I told him, that he no longer had the choice to return," she said. "On the contrary, I always worked my hardest and showed him my desire to establish myself in a job and to do what I had to deal with the expenses ... Always thinking of them, of giving them a better quality of life."
The first year here was a tough one, Quiroz Yañez said. He had to repeat the third grade halfway through the year and go through the school year with both English and Spanish teachers to support his transition.
“It was challenging to say the least,” he said. “We were leaving my dad behind … he made the choice to stay there by himself while we came here.”
Soon enough things started to look up.
After a couple of years, Quiroz Yañez passed the Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners, or ACCESS, test — an English language proficiency examination. Mastering the language opened doors for him to become increasingly involved in more activities, he said.
“I stayed involved in activities I truly enjoyed. Every activity I did, I didn't do it so it would look good on my application. I truly cared about the things I was doing and (what I was) getting involved in,” he said.
In middle school, he participated as a beginner editor for the studio team at The Innovation Center, for which he is now the lead video editor. The opportunity led him to begin his own business with video tutorials to teach others the craft as well as help small businesses with their marketing, he said.
As he reached high school, a new opportunity presented itself, said Quiroz Yañez, and he joined the ranks of the P-TECH program in computer science.
March met Quiroz Yañez when he was in the sixth grade and has seen the growth he has undergone in the past decade.
“He has an incredible sense of confidence that I think comes from his family and what his mother has sacrificed for them … He’s really intelligent and so hardworking, and even though he’s shy, he has this sense of self advocacy,” she said. “He’s shown that you don't have to be loud to be a self advocate.”
Quiroz Yañez belongs to the second class of SVVSD’s first P-TECH program founded at Skyline High School in 2016, which allows students to earn a high school diploma concurrently with an associates of Applied Science degree in Computer Information Systems from Front Range Community College at no cost to the student, according to the website.
Of 79 students who graduated from the first two cohorts, 46 will have received associates in computer science by May 2021, March said.
Quiroz Yañez will be graduating with an associates computer science degree in web development.
Half of the students graduating with him have over a 4.0 GPA, and several will be going to top tier college programs including the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, University of California Berkeley, University of Colorado, many of which are also first generation Latinx, March said.
“For him to shine in this group is really hard, but he's doing it,” she said. “What is so significant about him is he doesn't do any of it for show, he doesn't do any successes for anyone except for himself and to make his family proud. He knows it’s in his self interest to learn as much as possible. That’s what probably sets him apart.”
As he starts college in the fall, Quiroz Yañez sole goal is to focus on his academics and thrive as a Harvard graduate, said Yañez Lara.
"I tell my son, 'You have already managed to get in, which is something very difficult, now you are going to start school, being away from me and your brothers and it will not be easy, but I will support you,'” she said. "Moving forward the priority is for him to fulfill what he has always dreamed of and to create a good future for himself ... to be well educated so this can open doors for him, so he doesn’t have to suffer what he suffered as a boy, lacking things."
Not yet sure what his major will be, Quiroz Yañez plans to explore some classes and fields he has always been interested in but is seriously considering pursuing neuroscience on a pre-med track, he said.
He considers what he has received from his community, in Longmont and at Skyline, a source of inspiration, he said, adding his fellow P-TECH peers and teachers along the way have provided much support.
His biggest inspiration, however, is his mother, who has been working hard to raise him and his siblings to ensure they can have a bright future, he said.
“This achievement is as much hers as it is mine,” he said. “I really aspire to be like her and the fact she is here with me, helping me fight for my dreams, is part of the reason I have what I have.”
Editor's note: The original article stated that Jose Quiroz Yañez was 17.