It’s graduation season, and across the metro, high school valedictorians and senior speakers are putting the finishing touches on their commencement addresses. At DeLaSalle Education Center, Sandra Perez is excited, and a little nervous, to give the speech she wrote, which was selected out of the graduating class of 52 to be part of the commencement celebration.
“It’s a speech that’s going to be remembered at least by someone. I want it to be a speech that could impact at least one person,” says Sandra.
Hard High School Transitions
The impact is pretty major for the Perez family, because Sandra will be the first of the family to graduate from high school. Originally from Mexico, Sandra came to the United States with her family when she was seven years old. She learned English in middle school and ended up at Kansas City's Northeast High School. But Sandra says she had too many distractions there.
“I think I wasn’t paying attention much – I was not getting the grades I needed to get,” says Sandra. “But I think those mistakes made me realize that you need education to go somewhere. So I was just like I don’t want this for my life.”
That's when Sandra transferred to DeLaSalle, a smaller alternative charter school that offers, among other things, experiential learning programs. There, Sandra became interested in MINDDRIVE, a program that teaches urban students how to build electric cars.
She also built a strong relationship with her counselors, ran cross country, and served on the student council. The transition was hard at first, but now she’s graduating with a 4.0, and a year early.
Driver’s License, Dream Act
Opportunities continue to expand for Sandra. She recently got her driver's permit. That's a big deal for any teen, but maybe more so for Sandra. She’s a beneficiary of the DREAM Act that President Obama signed last year, which provides legal status to approximately 65,000 undocumented youth and puts them on the path towards citizenship.
“Just getting my permit was so like, ‘woo I finally got it.’" Sandra says. "It’s crazy because that was something I couldn’t get before, so it was a big step."
Sandra is considering many options at this point: perhaps a business degree or studying law. She'll spend the summer working, hanging out with family and friends, and hopefully taking a couple of trips. She'll also be looking for colleges to attend this coming fall.