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Sara Lopez: A Testament To The Power Of Education And Community In Stockton

Original article found here.

| Fat City Feed

STOCKTON, CA — Sara Lopez’s life is a vivid illustration of the impact that dedicated educators and supportive communities can have. Born and raised in Stockton, she has come full circle, from a student to a third-grade teacher at Aspire schools, the very institution that shaped her formative years. Her story is not just about personal success but a broader narrative of community upliftment and the vital role of education.

Early Influences and Aspire Schools

Sara’s path in education took root with a pivotal decision by her parents to enroll her at Aspire schools, a choice influenced by more than mere logistics, as they resided across town. This decision was a reflection of the family’s deeply held values, an intricate blend of Biblical teachings and a strong emphasis on education. Central to these values, and imparted to Sara and her siblings since childhood, was the Biblical principle “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” This ethos, a legacy from her Salvadoran father, was deeply ingrained in the family’s philosophy and approach to life.

Education has always been a priority in our family. It’s more than learning; it’s about building a foundation for future success,” Sara reflects.

From kindergarten to high school, Aspire schools provided Sara with an environment that fostered her growth. The small, community-focused setting of Aspire was instrumental in nurturing her talents and interests. The school’s unique approach to education, prioritizing individual student needs and community engagement, resonated deeply with Sara and her family.

Challenges and Triumphs

Sara’s proactive approach to her education began early, as she participated in dual enrollment from the 9th grade, taking college classes while in high school. This experience was crucial in preparing her for the challenges ahead.

One such challenge came in the form of a disheartening encounter with a college professor who accused her of plagiarism. This incident was a pivotal moment for Sara. It highlighted the prejudices and low expectations that students, particularly those from minority backgrounds, often face. However, instead of being deterred, Sara used this experience to fuel her passion for education and her commitment to being a supportive presence for her future students.

That moment of doubt from my professor only strengthened my resolve to be the kind of teacher who always believes in her students,” Sara recalls.

Transition to Teaching

After graduating from Aspire in 2018, Sara pursued her calling in education. Her decision to return to Aspire as a teacher was driven by a desire to be part of the “domino effect” of positive change that great schools and educators can instigate. As a Latina educator, she also understands the importance of representation in the classroom. Sara wants her students, especially those who share her background, to see themselves in her and believe in their own potential.

I want to be a role model for my students, showing them that they too can achieve their dreams, regardless of where they come from,” says Sara.

Sara’s commitment to education is a family affair. Her sister, Rosabella, is also carving a path in the field, mirroring Sara’s dedication to serving their community. Together, they represent a new generation of educators determined to uplift and inspire.

Vision for Stockton

Sara’s aspirations go beyond the classroom. She envisions a Stockton where every child, irrespective of their background, believes in their ability to make a positive difference. Her teaching philosophy is rooted in building a sense of community within the classroom, fostering an environment where students support and inspire one another.

Her approach to teaching emphasizes the importance of recognizing each student’s unique contributions and talents. She believes in nurturing a collaborative spirit, where students learn the value of teamwork and mutual support. Sara also makes it a point to be involved in her students’ lives outside the classroom, attending their extracurricular activities and showing them that her commitment to their well-being extends beyond school hours.

Legacy and Future Goals

Sara Lopez stands as a beacon of hope and inspiration, not only for her students but for anyone who values the power of education. Her journey from a student to an educator at Aspire schools is a testament to her resilience, dedication, and the unwavering support of her community. As she continues her career in education, Sara’s story serves as a powerful reminder of the impact a passionate and committed teacher can have on the lives of students and the broader community.

I’m just one piece in the larger puzzle of education, but I hope to leave a legacy of empowerment and positivity,” concludes Sara.

Introducing Aspire’s 2023 Don Shalvey Award Winners!

We are thrilled to introduce our 2023 Don Shalvey: Changing the Odds Award Winners!

Created in 2009 to honor Aspire’s founder, Don Shalvey, the award recognizes alumni who are the first in their families to graduate from college, tenacious in pursuit of their post-secondary goals, and who demonstrate Aspire’s Core Value of Community Partnership by giving back. Each year, one winner is selected from each of Aspire’s three regions.

This year’s award recipients are Dariana Lopez, Belen Naranjo, and Eunique Tucker! Read on to learn more about these outstanding, service-oriented alumni, all of whom are pursuing careers in helping professions.

Dariana Lopez
Dariana is part of Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy‘s graduating class of 2018. After graduating high school, she attended California State University Los Angeles, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in rehabilitation services in 2022. She has always had a passion for helping others and giving back to her community, so while in college, she started volunteering at Ollin. Her dream has always been to be an academic counselor and help students fulfill their educational goals. She then eventually became an employee at Ollin. She was honored to inspire and work with students who come from communities like herself and provide opportunities to help them succeed, which she did by working alongside academic counselors as an assistant. Now, she is excited to move forward to obtain her master’s degree of science in school counseling at California State University Northridge, to pursue an ultimate goal of becoming a school counselor.

Belen Naranjo
After graduating from Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy in 2019, Belen went to California State University Northridge where she entered as a criminology major. Thanks to the curriculum at Ben Holt, she already had most of her general education credit completed and began college with sophomore standing. She is grateful for her time at Aspire as she felt better prepared than those around her to be in the college setting. After her first few months, she decided to pursue studying child and adolescent development with applied developmental sciences, receiving her bachelor’s in May 2022. She is now preparing to attend Sacramento State in fall 2023, where she looks forward to obtaining a master’s in social work in order to give back to the community.

Eunique Tucker
After Eunique graduated from Aspire Richmond California College Preparatory Academy in 2015, she attended UC Davis where she received her bachelor’s in psychology. She then took a gap year and worked in Applied Behavior Analytics and the California Highway Patrol. In 2020, she began her doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Loma Linda University. She is very proud to say that she has persisted to the end of her third year. She is currently completing practicum hours working with teens at Jurupa Hills High School and serving the San Bernardino County community at the SBH Resiliency Clinic. During her time at Loma Linda, she has also had the chance to work in vaccine advocacy through a couple of churches in the community with the goal of increasing vaccine rates within the Black community, as well as giving presentations about mental health to the families of J.O. Ford Elementary in Richmond, CA.

Introducing Aspire’s 2023 Shining Stars Winners!

Aspire Public Schools is thrilled to announce our 2023 Shining Stars!

Anchored in Aspire’s Core Value of Agency + Self-determination, this award is given to one senior from each of our secondary schools. Winners demonstrate tenacity in pursuit of their post-secondary goals, and are heavily involved in their school and wider communities. Thank you to our generous supporters Richard and Theresa Crocker, who have made this award possible since 2015!

Congratulations to these incredible seniors, and we can’t wait to see what you’ll accomplish! Check out the highlight video below and read on to learn more about these students, reflections on their time at Aspire, and their future plans.


Bryan Buenrostro
Bryan has been with Aspire since 6th grade when he came to Aspire Golden State College Preparatory Academy. In the fall, Bryan will be studying architecture at UC Davis.

  • His favorite memory at Aspire: Going around school and being recognized by almost everyone and being able to start new conversations with anybody, forming new friendships. 
  • His advice to younger students: Live life in the moment because time goes by, and by the time you know it, high school is over and so are prom, hanging out with friends, and the simple high school experience you can not get back. 
  • In his post-secondary life, Bryan is most excited about… following my dream career and living the college lifestyle. 

Jared Lazo
Jared came to Aspire Langston Hughes Academy as a 6th grader. After graduation, he is excited to study music. 

  • His favorite memory at Aspire: Visiting various colleges for a field trip this year. It was a bittersweet moment hearing my peers laughing and joking on the bus for what will be one of our last memories in which we are all together in one space. 
  • His advice to younger students: Just enjoy yourself. Talk to new people, listen to new music, eat new foods, learn new skills, immerse yourself in meaningful hobbies and experiences, and prioritize your relationships and well-being. Of course, work as hard as you can, but don’t be hard on yourself because your life hasn’t even begun yet. 
  • In his post-secondary life, Jared is most excited that… college will provide me with the environment and resources to explore my interests and connect with those who share these interests. As a music producer and pianist, I can’t wait to meet other musicians. Perhaps I can join a band and jam with them, or perhaps I will create a collaborative album with a close friend. 

Jamielle Leones
Jamielle came to Aspire Richmond California College Preparatory Academy as a 7th grader. After graduation, she will attend UC Berkeley to study environmental engineering. 

  • Her favorite memory at Aspire: I’ve always regarded my school as a colorful, creative, and close-knit community. This can be proven when you first step inside, and you can find social justice portraits in every corner and feel the warm, friendly welcome of our school staff and students. Despite how small our school is, we are big on a sense of belonging. And my favorite memory of hosting the API town hall in May of 2021 with my Asian Pacific Islander Student Union represents that. During my junior year, my friends, AAPISU, and I worked together to bring our school a town hall dedicated to Asian hxstory. We put together decorations, activities, games, fun educational lessons, and more. Leading up to that point, we also enjoyed spending time with each other and held a cultural potluck where we brought and shared food from within each of our cultures. Overall, in that time of year, I had a fun time organizing the event and seeing how much everyone values diversity.
  • Her advice to younger students: Honestly, just make the most out of your years at school. This means enjoying it as much as possible. Although it is heavily emphasized to work diligently for post-secondary education like college, your whole world shouldn’t strictly revolve around it. It’s not ideal if it means jeopardizing your mental health and even your relationships. You still have a lot ahead of you. Use the time that you have to find what you are passionate about and maintain that instead of stressing or dictating what could happen in the future. Find balance between your work ethic and happiness to live life to the fullest.
  • Jamielle is excited about her post-secondary life because… I’ve recently been watching “day in the life” vlogs of a college student. The “college core” aesthetic seems so cute that I am looking forward to it–like making breakfast for myself, studying in a library with an iPad and an Apple Pencil, or walking around campus with friends 🙂   

Alondra Limon
Alondra came to Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy as an 8th grader. After graduation, she plans to major in political science. 

  • Her favorite memory at Aspire: When I was elected to be student body president. Knowing that the entire student body trusted me with this position felt like an honor for me.
  • Her advice to younger students: Do not make choices based on what other people think. Do what is best for you and never give up regardless of the circumstances.
  • In her post-secondary life, Alondra is most excited about… discovering more about myself and meeting new people outside of just my high school. 

Matthew Marquez
Matthew has been with Aspire since the 3rd grade. After graduating from Aspire Pacific Academy, he will attend UC Irvine to study business administration and finance.

  • His favorite memory at Aspire: Math field days. I only attended twice at my time at Aspire but the competition with other students and being able to come out on top individually was a great accomplishment for me. Other than that, graduating from both elementary and middle school leading up to my graduation of high school is something very special to me to be able to achieve as well. 
  • His advice to younger students: Push yourselves and get into uncomfortable positions because the more you are challenged the better you feel when you accomplish your challenge. Do not slack off at school. Middle school is as important as high school as it prepares you for high school and all high school years are very important as they determine the available options for post high school.
  • In his post-secondary life, Matthew is most excited about… living and experiencing what a university life is all about. All that and learning new things from new people and learning what my future career will be through the next four or more years of my life. I am very excited to move forward in life as an adult.

Dinora Mezquita
Dinora came to Aspire Vanguard College Preparatory Academy as a 6th grader. In the fall, she will attend UC Davis and study political science.

  • Her favorite memory at Aspire: Being able to help at the senior signing ceremony last year. It was just such an amazing experience being a part of the journey of the seniors from that year and seeing them decide the next part of their life. Helping set up in general was also so much fun. 
  • Her advice to younger students: It is okay to take a step back and take care of yourself. Enjoy the ride of being a high school student. 
  • In her post-secondary life, Dinora is most excited about… doing internships that are related to my career choice. 

Max Navarro
Max came to Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy as a freshman. He looks forward to studying economics at UCLA in the fall.

  • His favorite memory at Aspire: 11th grade Halloween Carnival. It was so much fun and it was the first event coming back from Quarantine so I was super happy to see everyone having fun in one place again.
  • His advice to younger students: Have fun by yourself. Go visit a museum, eat at that new sushi place, just spend time with yourself once in a while. It can be really relaxing.
  • In his post-secondary life, Matthew is most excited about… meeting new people from places around the United States or the world.

Lindsey Nguyen
Lindsey came to Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy in 6th grade. After graduation, she plans to attend San Jose State University to major in mathematics or math education in hopes of becoming a secondary math teacher.

  • Her favorite memory at Aspire: All of my favorite moments from my time at Aspire stem from community and connection with both students and staff. One that sticks out to me the most is Homecoming week my Junior year. This was my first time experiencing Homecoming from the Student Council point of view, fresh out of the pandemic. Homecoming week was the first event thrown by Student Council that was back in person. It was new to all of us and we were just running on pure excitement to be together again. The whole week of float building and parade preparation showed me how the class of 2023 came together as a community with open-mindedness and trust. Going into something so blindly with trial and error helped us all bond and grow together through the experience. After the whole event I felt so much closer to my class and that I think was the moment that we became a family. With such success, it kept our motivation to create new events which in turn created lasting memories. 
  • Her advice to younger students: As a Connect Crew Leader, the number one advice that I give to the younger students is to make an effort to build relationships with your teachers and the adults on campus. My greatest accomplishments in high school wouldn’t have been made possible without the support of the adults around me. Not just teachers, but also counselors, campus staff, and the office ladies. Building good relationships can not only make you feel more motivated and excited to come to school, but also help you feel more comfortable to reach out and ask for help if you need it. It eliminates the feelings of fear and judgment for seeking help. It also just makes school more fun and exciting! I genuinely love seeing my teachers, counselors, and staff at school everyday and I truly treasure my time with them. I am forever grateful for their support!
  • In her post-secondary life, Lindsey is most excited about… networking and expanding my connections in college. Being at a smaller school has provided me with a tight, family-like community, and so I am curious to see what student life is like at a much bigger scale. I am also looking forward to expanding as a person and seeing who I grow to be based on my experiences. 

Andrea Paz
Andrea has been an Aspire student since the second grade! After graduating from Aspire Alexander Twilight Secondary Academy, she will attend UC Davis to study political science in hopes of becoming a lawyer. 

  • Her favorite memory at Aspire: It’s not a specific memory but all the connections I have built with my teachers. The connections I have with my teachers are something that I will cherish for a long time because they have supported, guided me, and given me resources that otherwise I would have had a hard time getting. 
  • Her advice to younger students: If I could give a piece of advice to younger students it would be to keep moving forward and keep your goals in mind and the reasons why you are doing what you are doing. If I were to give a piece of advice to my younger self I would say to keep moving forward because it gets better.
  • In her post-secondary life, Andrea is most excited about… being able to pursue my career, meet other people who share my interests, and gain more independence to branch out of my comfort zone.

Executive Director Javier Cabra honored as a ‘Impact Warrior’ by Golden State Warriors

February 28, 2023

We are thrilled that the Golden State Warriors recently presented Javier Cabra, Executive Director, Aspire Bay Area, with a 2023 Impact Warrior Award. Javier has served the Bay Area community as a teacher and principal and is now Executive Director of Aspire Bay Area schools.

He invited educator, Carlene Ervin, to share this moment at the February 28th game because she was an Aspire student, graduate, and now current teacher! Carlene is also an Aspire Teacher Residency alumna who now supports scholars at her alma mater, Aspire Richmond California College Preparatory Academy.

Those honored as Impact Warriors are members of the community who “have gone above and beyond for the community and are doing good for those around them.” 

Javier shared that all Aspire Bay Area teammates should be honored for their hard work in supporting, coaching, and encouraging students in their educational development.Thank you to our teammates for all they do for the community and scholars!” he added.

To learn more about our nine Bay Area schools, visit here

Aspire Pacific Academy alum helps next gen Latino students become college-ready


Original article here.

By Ana Tintocalis

Published Nov. 10, 2022

The CharterNation Blog brings you a new ongoing series called Paying It Forward which  profiles charter public school graduates who are giving back to their charter public school community. This week, we feature Wendy Sanchez from the Class of 2013 at Aspire Pacific Academy in Los Angeles.

Wendy Sanchez didn’t know or hear the word “college” until she was in middle school.

Up until that time, Wendy says she attended schools where educators didn’t set high expectations for their students or take time to understand their potential.

In fact, one of Wendy’s teachers told her mother that she would likely be a high school dropout.

“Due to my poor writing and speaking skills, the teacher told my mom that I probably wouldn’t make it through high school,” Wendy recalls. “My mother left that meeting crying. From that point on, I realized that teachers have a big influence on whether or not you will succeed in school.”


Wendy is the oldest of three children in her family. Her mother, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, raised them on her own and worked a series of jobs to pay the bills. Wendy was chronically absent from school because she’d often have to take care of her younger siblings, especially her brother who was often sick and in the hospital. At one point, the entire family was homeless.

Quote_Wendy Sanchez

Being absent so often negatively impacted Wendy’s education and she never received the academic interventions to overcome that learning loss. But her life took a dramatic turn when she began attending Aspire Centennial College Preparatory Academy in Huntington Park, a charter public school in southeastern Los Angeles that is part of the Aspire Public Schools charter school network.

Wendy says at Centennial College Prep, she finally felt recognized by her teachers who continually used assessment data to fully understand her learning gaps and identified strategies to address those gaps. They also exposed Wendy to what college was all about.

“I thought after high school, that was it. I had no idea that college was even an option. But at Centennial College Prep, I learned the differences between four-year universities, UC and CSU, and community colleges.”

Wendy made a complete academic turnaround at Centennial College Prep and she  decided to stay within the Aspire network for high school. Fortunately, Aspire opened a new charter public high school in Huntington Park during that time called Aspire Pacific Academy and Wendy was part of its first freshman class of students.

With its college-prep focus, Wendy took the A-G courses required to be eligible for UC and CSU admission, learned how to navigate the college application process, and  applied for financial aid and scholarships.

Her perseverance paid off. She was the first person in her family to graduate and was accepted to UC Riverside, Sonoma State University, CSU Dominguez Hills, CSU Long Beach, and CSU Fullerton. In the end, she decided to attend UC Riverside.


“The moment I stepped foot on campus at UC Riverside, I knew that was the university for me,” Wendy says. “The campus, with its bell tower, looked like a scene from a movie. I really wanted to go to a university that had that traditional college atmosphere.”

Wendy admits her first year at UC Riverside was challenging because her classes were demanding and she couldn’t turn to anyone in her family for advice on how to balance all her coursework. But Wendy says the counselors at UC Riverside were just like the counselors at Aspire Pacific Academy. They motivated her to stay in college, access services and programs, connect with other students of color on campus, and look ahead to a bright future.

“The counselors and teachers at Aspire and UC Riverside are part of the reason why I’m a graduate … it took the people around me, giving me life lessons. That’s the reason why I give back now.”

Wendy says she’s paying it forward by encouraging other Latino students to overcome adversity and stay in high school or college despite all odds.

During college, she joined PromiseCorps, a division of AmeriCorps, and served two years as a College Ambassador helping students of color understand the college application process, write college essays, submit all the needed materials to secure financial aid and scholarships, and prepare for life after high school.

CF610388-17D4-4394-92CF-F69FEA33DD25Currently, Wendy is the Alumni Director for UCR’s Chicano Latino Alumni Association. Not only does she provide moral support to first generation Latino college students on campus, but she also explains how they can overcome academic and social-emotional hurdles by accessing key services and resources, as well as forming connections with one another.

“I always go back to my roots. It was my high school teachers who believed in me. You only need one person to help you out. That person can make all the difference.”

Because of her contributions to her local community, Wendy was recently recognized by her high school alma mater, Aspire Pacific Academy, which named her a 2022 Don Shalvey: Changing the Odds Award winner.

Created in 2009 to honor Aspire’s founder, Don Shalvey, the award recognizes alumni who are the first in their families to graduate from college, give back to their communities, and continue to demonstrate tenacity in the pursuit of attending college. 

This blog story was written by Ana Tintocalis, CCSA’s Senior Director of Media Relations and Editorial Content. She is a frequent contributor to the CharterNation Blog. Got a good charter school story? Contact her at atintocalis@ccsa.org.

Congrats to our 2022 Don Shalvey: Changing the Odds Award Winners!

Introducing this year’s Don Shalvey: Changing the Odds Award Winners! Created in 2009 to honor Aspire’s founder, Don Shalvey, the award recognizes alumni who are the first in their families to graduate from college, give back to their communities, and continue to demonstrate tenacity in the pursuit of College for Certain.

Each winner is selected from across our regions. This year’s award recipients are Bibiana Cardoso, Sara Lopez, and Wendy Sanchez!

Bibiana Cardoso graphicBibiana Cardoso
Bibiana is a proud Aspire Richmond California College Preparatory Academy alumna. After graduating in 2013, her college journey began at San Francisco State University. She eventually pivoted to community college but had a difficult time finding the support needed to feel successful. She was thrilled to find Rivet School, through which she earned her associate’s degree in general studies with a specialization in business, and a bachelor’s degree in management. Throughout her entire post-secondary journey, Bibiana found both employment and purpose at her alma mater: in 2015, she began working as an Afterschool Educator, before transitioning to Women’s Soccer Head Coach, and eventually Athletic Director.

This June, she graduated from the Alder Graduate School of Education with a dual master’s and credential program and will make the transition to teaching at Cal Prep in the 2022-2023 school year as an 8th-grade science teacher! Bibiana feels that she would not be the person and educator that she is today without Cal Prep. She is excited to work alongside the educators that taught her while continuing to support the community that shaped her.

Sara Lopez graphicSara Lopez
Upon graduating from Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy in the spring of 2018, Sara attended San Joaquin Delta College and in two years earned four associate degrees. In Fall 2020, amidst a global pandemic, she transferred to the University of the Pacific to reach her next educational goal. COVID and distance learning was a huge challenge, as she lost her grandfather and dog. Despite adversity, she felt enthusiastic to be a student and leader serving as a New Student Orientation/Week of Welcome Leader and thereafter promoted to Manager. She also served as UOP’s Benerd College Senator under its Student Government body. One of her passions was advocating not just for herself and her colleagues, but for future students to promote a more equitable society and invest in her local community to ensure high-quality educators. Along with school work, she began student teaching in a first-grade class and worked alongside her sister in their photography business.

Proudly, in May 2022, she graduated Summa Cum Laude, with a Bachelors in Diversified Education and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. She was inducted as a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and chosen as the recipient of the 2022 Outstanding Undergraduate Leadership in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award. With great joy, she has accepted a teaching position at Aspire Vincent Shalvey Academy, her alma mater. She feels privileged to complete the full circle by returning to Aspire as an educator this fall. Like the VSA motto stated, “Believe it, Achieve it!” and she did!


Wendy Sanchez
Wendy is the first in her family to graduate from college, achieving a Bachelor’s degree in political science from UC Riverside. At UCR, she mentored through the Chicano Student Programs, advocated for new initiatives through Associated Students Programs, and was an ambassador for Residence Hall Association. Her mentors encouraged her to study abroad for a quarter in London and Paris. Upon graduating she became a College Ambassador for two years with AmeriCorps in Hollywood. She advocated for students to pursue higher education and be prepared for post-graduation. During her time in service, she was also Scholarship Reader for the UC Study Abroad program and began with her certification program in Paralegal Studies at UCLA Extension Center. Wendy is currently serving with the Board of Directors with UCR Chicano Latino Alumni Association, Scholarship Reader for the Study Abroad Program while being a Paralegal in Employment Law. She aspires to become the first in her family to be an attorney.

Congratulations to this year’s award recipients! To learn more about our alumni and past winners, click here.