Op-Ed: Confetti, and Preparing Kids Like Me for a Not-So-Distant Future

Lesly Velazquez-Morales (far right) with fellow DSST graduates.
Lesly Velazquez-Morales (far right) with fellow DSST graduates. courtesy of Lesly Velazquez-Morales
The summer before sixth grade, I received an envelope from my new middle school. There was a congratulations note, and confetti! It made me feel special.

I remember I was super-excited about the first day of school. The year was 2012, but there was all this talk about 2020. That seemed so far off to me; I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The year 2020 was when our incoming class was expected to graduate from high school.

As I was preparing to finish elementary school, my fifth-grade teacher had told our family about the amazing work DSST Public Schools was doing. She talked to my parents about DSST College View, at South Federal and Dartmouth. The school was going to offer middle and high school, and she thought I could benefit from it. Right away, my parents said, “Let’s figure it out.” We started the school-choice application process for the free charter school in Denver Public Schools.

On that first day in August 2012, our teachers explained to us what "advisories" were, and they told us where they had gone to college. They were proud of those schools and displayed banners and posters.

That sixth-grade year, we began visiting colleges in the Denver area. I remember thinking, "I’ve never seen anything like this."

Looking back, I realize our rituals — like "morning meeting" or our uniforms — were not the experience of all students attending high school in Denver or other cities. The morning meetings were a time when we came together for a common space. We’d focus on themes such as Hispanic history, Black history and Asian history. Coming together as a community and talking about something together was very beneficial for me.

As a sophomore now at Drake University, my college friends tell me they didn’t have that close sense of community at their high school. I realize how lucky I was to have that time with my friends in high school. Advisories were also important to make sure I never felt like a number. If I missed school or a class, someone was after me. I got along well with administrators, from the dean for Prep Academy to the dean for Senior Academy to the principal.

It’s always nice to have somebody in your corner and seeing teachers take pride in your success. I could take an algebra test and go tell a teacher about it and they cared that it had gone well. While my parents would cheer me on, it wasn’t the same as getting that backing from somebody who was aware of what was at stake, such as the impact of a single test on my final grade.

As a first-generation student applying for college, the entire process was overwhelming. With all these hoops to jump through — such as FAFSA, the Common App, GPA, class rank, SAT scores — you can understand why lots of kids like me think college is out of reach. Senior Seminar was a block during the day when we worked on our applications and talked about concepts like “safety” and “reach” schools.

The College Success team at DSST puts a lot of hard work into students. I’ll be forever grateful for them.
All this attention made me work harder to get the grades I needed to get to college. As a freshman at Drake last fall, I was nervous about how ready I would be for the challenge of college. I got really good grades, and I know it’s because of the preparation and all of the work I did at DSST.

DSST has given our family a really good sense of community. It showed me very important values that I still uphold in my life. Had I not had DSST in my life, I think it’d be a very different story whether I’d gone to college or not.

Now my brother is entering his senior year at DSST College View, and has us all waiting to see where he will go to college.

I was part of the Engaged Citizen Corps this past year at Drake, and now want to empower the community where I grew up. I’m hoping to major in secondary education with an endorsement in Spanish and social sciences. This summer I participated in the DSST Summer Fellows program. I got to work with current students, be in a classroom and see my old teachers. It was exactly what I needed.

I looked up to the few Latina teachers I had at DSST College View. I want to be that inspiration for somebody.

Lesly Velazquez-Morales is a sophomore at Drake University. She graduated in 2020 from DSST College View in Denver Public Schools.

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