Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Statement on Zachary Barth

June 14, 2017
All of us in Spring Branch ISD and the Stratford High School community are grateful to learn that Zachary Barth, SHS Class of 2011, is expected to fully recover from injuries sustained in the Alexandria, Va., incident that occurred this morning. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Zach and his family.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Sofia Isart Loves Helping Others

Memorial High grad Gladys “Sofia” Isart is so sunny and bright one of her favorite campus teachers wrote about how Sofia changed her life rather than vice versa.

Writes Sherri Boyd, an American History teacher: “You were one of the first names I learned last year, even if I learned it wrong [at first], because you would smile your way into the room, ‘Good morning! I missed you over the weekend, Ms. Boyd! . . . and smile your way out, ‘Bye, Boyd! Love you!’”

“You have a remarkable ability to be positive, to see the good in everyone, and to brighten up even the most disheartened soul. Luckily, some of that rubbed off on me, and I am a better person because of you. . . You are a huge part of the reason why I love what I do,” Ms. Boyd said about one of her favorite students.

Sofia plans to take her keen interest in serving people, pets and the natural world to Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas. Several years ago, Sofia moved to Houston with her family from El Salvador. Her family fled the crime and insecurity that has ravaged much of that Central American country in recent years.

Her father, a medical doctor, left his profession behind, too, but his daughter may follow in his M.D. footsteps with her own interest in medicine, especially nursing. She was a volunteer in a summer program at Methodist Hospital and also learned to talk with and even celebrate with Memorial Hospice patients.

A typical Sofia moment: A dying hospice patient reached out to her to help with flower arrangements after finding the love of her life – late in life – and taking time to get married. “With that patient, I felt happy, not sad,” Sofia recalls.

“I love helping people,” Sofia says. “At first, I wanted to be a medical doctor, but I was inspired by what I saw with nurses and nursing. I said to myself, ‘I want to be a nurse.’ I’m looking forward to making money, but I really do want to have a real impact on people. I think that nurses do that.”

Her career dream at this moment is to work in a neurological nursing unit, maybe at Methodist Hospital where she volunteered, and help support her mom and dad here in Houston.

Her father, who she describes as her “teddy bear,” is one of her heroes. Matching her sunny personality, Sofia doesn’t have just one favorite Memorial teacher, but a small army of educator heroes.

They include Michelle Ammon in Memorial English. “She made me believe in myself. She taught me that I didn’t need to go to Michigan or a certain brand-name college, and to choose a college based on a major rather than the college based on where friends go.”

Anthony Duke in Memorial Physics helped her learn a difficult subject. “He made me feel so smart, like I understood Physics!”    

A pet lover and environmental supporter, Sofia was active in Book Club, Model U.N., Students for Humanity and Memorial Mustang Outreach Bunch (MMOB). She joined Best Buddies, a group that promotes relationships between general students and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Sofia has an amazing personality, a large compassionate heart, and a zeal for learning. She is always responsible and hard-working, and has the ability to adapt well in every circumstance,” says Memorial Counselor Stephanie Jackson.

“She is a joy to be around, and peers and teachers alike gravitate to her kind and outgoing disposition. Sofia knows how to be a successful student, a dependable friend, and has been a great example for her peers!”

Sofia Isart is certain to make the world a happier place.

SBISD Hosts Upcoming Meet and Greet for Teachers and Support Staff

Register today for SBISD's upcoming Meet and Greet.

Who: Teachers and support staff
What: To provide an opportunity for teachers (classroom, special education, counselors and librarians) and support staff interested in Spring Branch ISD to meet with Spring Branch Administrators and/or Campus Representatives
When: Tuesday, June 13, 2017
4:00 - 6:30 p.m.
Where: Don Coleman Coliseum
1050 Dairy Ashford
Houston, TX 77079
How: Register online >>

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Soft Spoken ‘Ms. Kathy’ a Strong Presence for Mentees

SBISD mentor Kathy Plugge with mentee Tira.
Lunch hours on Tuesdays are busy for SpringBoard Mentor Kathy Plugge.

She first visits her fourth-grade mentee at Nottingham Elementary, then drives over to visit another mentee at Spring Forest Middle School.

“It might sound like a big commitment, but really it is not difficult to accomplish,” said Plugge, or Ms. Kathy, as the mentees call her. “It only takes a half-hour at each school, and it is not a burden at all.”

Plugge is a former teacher and more recently has been moving often with her husband’s job at Exxon Mobil. She first heard about the program during a presentation by Monica Creixell, SpringBoard Specialist, at St. John Vianney Catholic Church. Plugge is a first-class mentor with a calm and friendly demeanor that both mentees really like.

At Nottingham, Plugge mentors a lively fourth-grade girl, Tira, who has five siblings, all of whom has, have attended or is still attending an SBISD school. Nottingham mentor coordinator Mary Pizana recommended the young lady for the program suspecting that a little one-on-one attention would help her blossom with confidence.

“I like it when my mentor comes to visit because we can talk about what she did that day or on the weekend,” said Tira. “I like to hear stories about Ms. Kathy’s family and activities.”

“My mentee is very thoughtful,” says Plugge. “She always thinks to ask me how things are going for me!”

Tira was nervous about taking the reading portion of the STAAR test but Plugge calmly talked it through with her Nottingham mentee, reminding her to “get enough sleep, eat a good breakfast, and to do her best.”

They also have been reading a book together, “The One and Only Ivan”, about a gorilla and his friends who work at the Big Top Mall and recommended by Nottingham librarian Michelle Murphy. The mentor/mentee duo may consider reading another book over the summer, and then have a book discussion when they get back together in the fall.
Plugge with mentee Tytiana.
Plugge also mentors an eighth grade student at Spring Forest Middle School on Tuesdays. She and Tytiana have been matched together since third grade and over their years together, Tytiana has grown in confidence and willingness to join groups at school. During her middle school years, she has participated in choir, volleyball, basketball, orchestra and track – including competing in the shotput and discus events.

“I am inspired by the quote, ‘Dream-Believe-Live,’” said Tytiana. “I dream about big goals, and when I hear ‘no,’ I know I can achieve them because I believe in myself.”

Plugge and Tytiana enjoy chatting during the lunch period they share together on Tuesdays.

“Tytiana has been good about talking and listening to other perspectives,” said Plugge.

The mentor is a strong presence in Tytiana’s life, and quietly asks critical and thought-provoking questions of her mentee to help her think through the results and consequences of decisions.

“I like it when we talk things through while drawing pictures or playing a game,” said the mentee. This mentor and mentee also share love for their dogs, and like to compare pet stories.

As Tytiana heads off to high school next year, Plugge hopes their relationship will continue if her mentee’s family doesn’t move out of the district. Her guidance and support will travel with Tytiana through the next chapters of her life.

Thank you, Ms. Kathy Plugge, for being a pillar of hope and light for the girls you mentor in SBISD.

If you are interested in making a positive difference in the life of a SBISD student, please go to the SpringBoard Mentoring Program website to learn about the simple steps to become a mentor. “Be someone who matters to someone who matters.”

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Focused on West Point

There is a back story to the Army T-shirt that Memorial High graduate Krys Kyle wears proudly today.

If you had asked Krys two years ago what West Point means to him, he might have given you a blank look or a neutral response. He didn’t know too much about West Point, N.Y., which was established in 1775 by George Washington as a key post in America’s Revolutionary War period.

Being admitted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point today is an exceptional honor. It became a goal for Krys when a recruiting coach contacted the well ranked Mustang running back to see if he would visit the prestigious academy located near New York City, and also the West Point football team and coaching staff.

That recruiting phone call and a follow-up visit helped Krys make an important life decision: He was intent on being an Army student athlete. Area U.S. Congressman Ted Poe nominated him for West Point admission and a later Army career.

Krys, however, had a stumbling block. He needed a higher SAT score. He took the test four times. In February, he got the score he needed, but it was too late for West Point football recruiting and admission. Krys pursues his goals, however.

And his West Point dream is still possible. In a few months, Krys will join the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, also at West Point, where he will join up to 200 other young people seeking full admission to the service academy.

Krys is no quitter, a personality trait he credits to his parents. His dad served as a U.S. Airborne Ranger, an elite military fighting group, and his mom was a Navy service member. Krys now plans to be the first in his family to be admitted to a national military service academy. 

“I credit my parents for making this all happen,” he says. “My dad has never let me quit, and that is how I was raised. He said, ‘You need to do everything possible and be ready for everything.’”
His West Point visit made Krys focus on the future. “The coach made it really feel like home. I would like to be part of something bigger than myself, and it felt to me like it was where I did belong. Today, I’m excited about being in the military. Two years ago, West Point or the Army were not something I ever thought that I’d be doing.”

Krys has attended Memorial High for the past two years. Before that, he lived in Houston with his dad and spent two years at Lamar High School.

In addition to Houston, Krys grew up in Romeoville, Ill., in suburban Chicago. Between a Houston and Midwest upbringing, Krys has interned at a hedge fund based in Charlotte, N.C., and has had a variety of other adult-based experiences.

A music fan, he likes to attend concerts. Some of his favorite artists include Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar and Kayne West.

“Having lived the inner city and outer city, Lamar [High] versus Memorial [High], Chicago versus Houston, I think all those experiences have helped me to become what I am today . . . and I’ve really learned to understand people, and why they are the way they are by being here [at Memorial],” he reflects. “For me, more kinds of people means more opportunities.”

Memorial Counselor Stephanie Jackson calls him enthusiastic, optimistic, independent and ambitious.

“Krys has successfully balanced the demands of extracurricular activities, schoolwork and varsity football. The time commitments that are required both during the on- and off-season are significant, yet Krys handles everything on his plate with ease,” she said.

“Whether he is coordinating plays on the field, coaching up the younger players, or putting forth the extra effort in practice, his remarkable guidance makes his teammates better. Krys always pushes himself to the best, and he works hard to help others so they can experience the same success,” the counselor also said.

Krys is looking forward to success at West Point’s preparatory school and then as a West Point student, athlete, graduate and military officer.

“Getting ready for college, football and student life are what the past two years have been about for me. I’ve set and met goals, met a lot of new people, and grown as a student and a person,” he says.

Oh yes, and now he proudly wears an Army T-shirt. He has a new goal to achieve.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Memorial High Grad Picked for Selective Program

William “Ryan” Caesar is likely the first Spring Branch ISD graduate ever admitted to Oxford University as an undergraduate. A rich learning journey begins for him soon, but Ryan doesn’t allow accomplishment or accolade to go to his head.

In just a few weeks, this Memorial High co-valedictorian who scored a composite perfect score of 36 on the ACT as only a junior will be riding along on the back of a garbage truck, picking up neighborhood trash like a simple working man.

His father is chief executive officer at WCA Waste Corp., which includes trash and garbage operations, but Ryan takes total responsibility for his hot and sweaty pre-Oxford decision to earn a real paycheck.

“This is my idea,” he says. “I really want to know what it is like to go out each day and to really work for everything you’ve got.” It connects with deeply held ethics about working for a living in America, says the National Merit Finalist.

If that sounds a bit like a politician or a philosopher in the making, it also follows the choices Ryan has made along the way. At Memorial, he played on the varsity basketball team and led a winning Academic WorldQuest team, while performing at the top of his academic class.

He has taken more Advanced Placement classes than most people can name. 

Last summer, he interned in the office of Texas Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a District 6 Democrat. He helped build a Youth Advisory Council in Goose Creek ISD, and helped get a homeless man into a local shelter, a favorite interning memory.

He took away a message from staff last summer: “Do first, ask questions later.”

He visited Oxford University with his family last summer, too, and then returned alone last December for three days of personal interviews with Oxford scholars, or tutors, who choose a handful of incoming freshmen admitted into a program offering a degree in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE).

He is not a stranger to Great Britain. He lived there with his parents when just a toddler. The Oxford campus is quite old and beautiful, but the PPE program has stolen his heart and brain, if not his soul.

“PPE for me is a broad opportunity, and that appeals to me. I know what I like to do, but not what I really want to do in the future. It represents that wider scope of ideas, all of which I’m interested in,” he says.

The Oxford tutors obviously liked what they heard. The three days of interviews last December will result in Ryan joining seven PPE incoming freshmen, starting this October, at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, one of 30 separate colleges there.

The intense interviews were like nothing he had ever done. He prepped for the interviews by devouring philosophy books, winning comments from basketball buddies during practices.

One sample oral interview question: Does the spread of democracy in the world today lead to a more stable world society? 

“I studied my butt off and those were easily the most stressful days of my entire life,” he recalls. “They wanted to know how you think, they were not looking for answers.”

Among peers who reportedly interviewed for a PPE spot at Oxford was Malala Yousafzai, the  young Pakistani who advocates for female schooling and human rights. She is the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Prize.

Ryan is highly impressed by the leadership model of his parents, and especially his mother, Minda Caesar, who was highly visible this year in Spring Branch ISD and in educating the Texas Legislature on critical issues like school finance reform.

Both teachers and counselors who know him say that Ryan will thrive at Oxford, no matter who he competes with or what college or career direction he selects. He remains interested in U.S. politics, among other options.

“Ryan Caesar is driven, smart and fun to have in class – he always seems to be smiling,” says Ann Rogers, an AP Physics teacher who Ryan views as one of his best instructors. “He tries hard and is willing to make mistakes. Ryan speaks up and asks questions.”

“Ryan has shown us that he is astonishing in all regards, organized to perfection, and responsible beyond his years,” Memorial Counselor Graciely Hudec writes.  “Not only is his transcript a work of art, but his devotion to his academic success and his extracurricular activities and service to his community are beyond measure. Ryan Caesar is an amazing individual, representative of an ideal student.”

Oxford University thinks so, too.

Friday, May 26, 2017

CTE Awards 2017 Scholarships

CTE scholarship winners are (from left): Diego Valdovinos, Alec Miller, Meaghan Pansacola, Taylor Gee, Rodrigo De La Torre, Ashley Joiner, Brice Reardon, Henry Wilhelm, Alexis Bennett, Lin To, Anastasia Torres and Benjamin Neyland.
The 2017 Career and Technical Education (CTE) scholarships were awarded last month during a luncheon at the Guthrie Center.

Henry Wilhelm, a senior and valedictorian at Memorial High School, was named Outstanding Academy of Finance student and awarded a $2,000 scholarship from First Community Credit Union. Henry plans to attend the University of Texas Business Honors program and major in finance. His AOF teacher is Lori Baker.

Alexis Bennett, a senior and valedictorian at Memorial High School, was awarded a $1,000 AOF scholarship. Alexis plans to attend the University of Texas Business Honors program. Her AOF teacher is John Noel.

Brice Reardon, a senior at Spring Woods High School, was awarded a $1,000 AOF scholarship. Brice plans to attend TCU and major in finance. His AOF teacher is Lisa Slattery.

Ashley Joyner, a senior at Stratford High School, was awarded a $1,000 AOF scholarship. Ashley plans to attend the University of Texas this fall. Her AOF teacher is Mary Jackson.

Rodrigo De La Torre, a senior at Spring Woods High School, was awarded a $1,000 scholarship through the Guthrie Academy of Hospitality and Tourism. Rodrigo plans to attend the Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. His teacher is Lorraine Hamilton.

Anastasia Torres, a senior who has taken four years of culinary arts at the Guthrie Center, was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from Memorial-Spring Branch Rotary Charities. Anastasia plans to attend Houston Community College this fall and pursue a degree in culinary arts. Her teacher is Melissa Manske.

Lin To, a senior at Northbrook High School, was awarded the $2,500 Village Family Practice Health Careers scholarship. Lin plans to attend Texas State University and study nursing. Her teacher is Linda Tusa.

Benjamin Neyland, a senior at Memorial High School, was awarded the $1,000 Excellence in Career and Technical Education scholarship. Benjamin plans to attend California Polytechnic State University and study architectural engineering.

Alec Miller, Meaghan Pansacola, Diego Valdovinos and Taylor Gee, architectural design and graphic design students at the Guthrie Center, were each awarded a $250 scholarship for developing a marketing brochure for Murraybrook-built Baker Street Homes.

Paloma June: A Citizen of the World

Lucille Ball once said that “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”

At Westchester Academy for International Studies, that would be senior Paloma June.

Here are a few things she’s juggled during her high school years: National Honor Society, including holding an office; science and math honor societies; Mu Alpha Theta math competitions; Model United Nations, including annual competitions and international conferences; Medical Club; Prom Committee – she was voted Prom Queen.

She also played club lacrosse at Stratford High School. She’s been a Girl Scout for 12 years, active in its sailing program at Seabrook. And she does well in her rigorous International Baccalaureate course work.

She doesn’t bat an eye when she describes a week of back-to-back IB testing followed by a weekend in Seabrook to complete an intensive 40-hour course to earn a sailing instructor’s certification.

Her accomplishments have won the respect of WAIS classmates and faculty.

 “I appreciate Paloma’s independent spirit and her commitment to excellence,” said Beverly Martin, lead counselor. “She has pushed herself academically while balancing many extracurricular activities. She is trustworthy and fun to be around.”  

Paloma came to Westchester in the seventh grade. Though her dad, Larry June, is a Westchester grad, Paloma was born in the Netherlands and spent 11 years in Singapore.

She clearly remembers her introduction to the new school. Attending a PTA event with her mom, Maria-Luisa, she met two girls who invited her to their homes that same day. They’re still friends. “It was so easy to be accepted into a friend group,” she says.

It was the friends, myriad opportunities, Westchester’s supportive environment and the prospect of sailing with Girl Scouts that convinced Paloma to stay in Houston when her dad’s job in the energy industry took him to India. Paloma was a sophomore at the time, so her grandmother moved into the June home.

Paloma has visited her parents in India several times and is intrigued by the culture, food and colors, but she’s happy she could continue high school with her WAIS family. Life went on as usual.

Life as usual for Paloma is always interesting. IB classes excited her. She loved the opportunity to focus on six subjects over the last two years; it meant she got to know her teachers very well and concentrated on intriguing topics.

“In chemistry class, I focused on medicinal chemistry. It was a blast!” she said. “I’d go home and tell my grandmother and aunt all about it. I’m not sure they really cared, but they pretended to. IB history is both in-depth and broad. For instance, we looked at how the U.S. Great Depression affected Canada and Latin America.”

That history lesson pretty much sums up Paloma’s worldview: the world is connected. An adventurous traveler, she’s been to more than 20 countries, and in each she realized, “Man, I could live here.”

She learns something wherever she goes.

  • How to pick leeches off people – “My family likes to hike in unusual places.”
  • How to be Zen – “Things don’t always work out as you think they will.”
  • How to navigate without Google Maps – “Yes, I can use a paper map.”
  • How to use public transportation – “I can get just about anywhere.”
  • How to respect and be careful around animals – “There was an elephant incident.”
  • How to build self-reliance – “You learn to figure things out on your own.”
She’s become a keen observer of world events.

“We need to learn to listen to each other,” she said. “It’s really easy to live with people who agree with you, but that doesn’t fix anything.”

Fixing things – more specifically, people – is in Paloma’s future. After a summer job as a sailing instructor at Girl Scout camp in Seabrook, she’s off to the University of Texas to major in biology.

“We have great biology teachers at Westchester,” she said. “I fell in love with the subject because of their labs, experiments and field trips.”

After her first degree, she plans to go to medical school. She’s fascinated by how the body works.

“It’s a combination of biology, chemistry and physics,” she said. “Really small things can affect so many others.”

Paloma will no doubt achieve every one of her goals. That’s what busy and committed people do. The real question is this: Where in the world will that commitment take her?

by Rusty Graham

Herasmo Castillo: Keeping His Eye on the Ball

Herasmo Castillo carries himself like an athlete and speaks with the quiet confidence of a young man who is going places.

In the near future, that place will be Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi where he will walk on to the baseball team. And while he plans a major in Kinesiology and a career as a personal trainer in a gym he plans to own, he’s leaving his options open because the world is full of possibilities.

Herasmo has spent his entire school career in Spring Branch: The Panda Path School (where he recently stopped in to invite his PreK teacher, Mr. Villarreal, to his graduation), Hollibrook Elementary, Northbrook Middle and Northbrook High. He was introduced to English as a second language in elementary school and was proficient by fourth grade.

However, it was baseball that grabbed his attention and absorbed every moment of his spare time. Spring Spirit Baseball was his home away from home. He played first and third base for the Houston Hooks, a Select team, competing all over Houston and traveling for tournaments.

By the time he was in high school, he had switched to catcher and second base and lettered each year on the varsity team. The game was his motivator. Even though grades came easily to Herasmo, and he was almost always on the A/B Honor Roll, he felt the second semester of school was always easier – he looked forward to practice and games.

The team was his friend group. During the first semester, before baseball season was under way, the guys anticipated Friday nights. They operated the blow-up tunnel the football team ran through at the beginning of each half of play. Football games and Spring Spirit kept them together during their off-season.

“My dad was my first coach,” he says. “When I was 13, I started coaching with him. Coaching gives you a different way of thinking about the game. It made me a better player.”

It was also his way of giving back to the sport. “Some of the neighborhood kids were going in the wrong direction. Baseball turned them around. I had been exposed to drugs as a kid and walked away. I set an example for our players. My dad and I kept them busy, so they didn’t have time to get into trouble. We set extra practices. My mom and other moms threw team parties after practice. We made it fun. They didn’t know we were keeping them out of trouble.

“Now some of the kids I helped coach are freshmen on my high school team. I think of them as my younger brothers because my family mentored them to go in the right direction.”

“There’s something about the Castillo family,” says Scott Glueck, Northbrook’s social worker. “They have shaped wonderful kids. Herasmo is such a nice guy. He has the resilience, drive and ambition that will take him far.”

Scott isn’t the only one who admires Cesar and Fatima Castillo. Herasmo is clearly proud of them.

When he leaves for Corpus Christi, Herasmo will be following the family tradition of going to college. His father went to university in Mexico, and his cousin is on target to graduate next year from South Texas College in McAllen. Higher education is expected of Herasmo, his three younger brothers and baby sister.

“It was always a family goal,” he says. “My parents know opportunities will open up when I have a degree. And besides, I always wanted to play college ball.

“I’m a pretty simple guy. I feel no pressure about college. Northbrook has prepared me. Our teachers held us to a higher standard in AP classes. History was my favorite subject. I like knowing how things came to be and how the past shapes today.”

As hard as you might look, there seems to be only one flaw in Herasmo’s make-up. He was born in Missouri, and though he lived there only briefly, he insists the St. Louis Cardinals is his team. The Houston Astros remain a distant second in his loyalty. Perhaps the Corpus Christi Hooks will sway him.

“I look forward to being on my own. Corpus Christi isn’t close, but it isn’t far either. I’m pretty excited.”

by Rusty Graham

Alejandro Vazquez Martinez: Out to Change the World

Alex Vazquez plans to take Northbrook High School Principal Randolph Adami’s job – or one like it – one day.

That wasn’t always the case. At one time, he wanted to be an architect. Then he met his eighth-grade Spanish teacher. Through her, he came to see that shaping education in Title 1 schools is the best way to change the world.

And that’s what he wants to do: change the world. “I don’t want other students to have the struggles I had,” he says.

Born in Mexico, Alex was brought to Houston at age 1. His family soon moved to Dallas; two younger brothers were born in America. The family returned to Houston when Alex was in sixth grade. He attended Spring Oaks and Northbrook Middle schools, then Northbrook High.

“My dad was deported three years ago because of domestic violence.” Unable to find work in Houston, his mother moved back to Dallas with the two younger boys. At 17, Alex was homeless.
“I stayed in Houston because of my strong connection with the people here, and I was part of the EMERGE program.” EMERGE is a nonprofit organization that empowers low-income, high-performing students to attend the nation’s top-tier schools. He could not pass up the possibilities it offered.

Homeless, with no family support and busy with AP classes, Alex accepted an offer to stay with a friend’s family. He was expected to pay rent and his own expenses, so he took a 20-hour-a-week job. Sometimes he was able to get rides to work; just as often he got there with a series of long walks and Metro rides.

“I got through it.” He says that very calmly, with a self-possessed composure that defies his age.

Asked about his grades during this stressful time, Alex seems reluctant to admit he’s one of Northbrook’s two valedictorians. “That was never my goal,” he explains, “I just tried my hardest every single day. My goal was to have a memorable experience with the people I love and to always help others.” And the people he loves? “My friends, and all the adults who supported me – teachers, administrators, counselors and mentors.”

Alex’ life dramatically changed during his senior year.  A mentor, Ericka Graham, invited him to live with her and her husband, Garett. “They have been a blessing. I’m kind of like their kid. It’s been a two-way learning experience because we come from such different backgrounds. They understand and encourage me.”

He was also accepted to Pomona College in Claremont, California, with a full ride, thanks to opportunities provided by EMERGE and its mentors. He’ll begin with Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, but is excited to explore the school’s Sociology of Poverty program. He feels this will prepare him for changing the world.

Scott Glueck, Northbrook’s social worker, believes Alex might just do it. He’s won many academic awards, though you would never know it by talking with him. Nor would you learn he was the Raiders’ mascot and loved every minute of it. “He’s quiet, studious, thoughtful and spiritual. I once asked him if he’d considered becoming a priest. He cares deeply for his classmates and has an aptitude for social justice.”

To Alex, social justice is equity and opportunity for all people, regardless of race, income, gender or religion. Even if you’re undocumented.

He founded a group deliberately named United Successful Achievers or U.S.A., the only student-run organization at Northbrook. “I wanted to demonstrate the irony,” he says. “Even though many of us are not welcome in this country, we’re still being successful.” The group increases awareness of undocumented students’ needs, educates students about scholarships and financial aid, connects them to organizations that can help, and emphasizes community service.

His belief that all students are entitled to an education regardless of legal status got him published in the New York Times. Shortly before the last presidential election, the Times asked students what they would do if they were president. Alex’ answer was printed. (As president, he would expand DACA and DAPA programs, offering deportation relief for childhood arrivals and parents of Americans; and he would expand college financial aid in all 50 states.)

Alex is the first on his maternal family’s side to graduate high school and the first on his paternal family to attend a top-tier college.

“My parents can’t understand the magnitude of my accomplishments. They trust me that I’m making good decisions. They want me to be there for them, but I know if I get a degree and a profession, I can do more.”

EMERGE recently flew Alex to Claremont where he met plenty of other students whose circumstances are similar to his. Together, they will, no doubt, change the world.

by Rusty Graham