Aspire Public Schools is a K-12 school system focused on improving public education by preparing underserved students for college, training highly effective teachers and sharing innovative best practices.
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.
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.
By Joel Ramirez | Sr. Director of Culturally Responsive Leadership Development
October 3, 2022
It’s Hispanic Heritage Month and the signs and advertisements celebrating the culture are abundant. I feel, as I often do this time of year, mixed emotions. As a Mexican-American educator, I understand the good intentions behind the signs; celebrating diversity and honoring different cultures should be applauded.
But if we really want to celebrate the culture and give Latino students a true sense of belonging in their schools, we should do far more than have a program, assembly or fancy celebration to honor our students’ heritage. Instead, we should look at the foundational role that families play within Latino culture and embrace and honor those values. Values of belonging, collaboration and hard work.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I was often surrounded by my large extended family. Both my parents are from Jalisco, Mexico: my mother is one of 11 siblings and my father is one of six. Many of my aunts, uncles and cousins also moved to Los Angeles. My Dad instilled in me the importance of courage, and the value of hard work as the expression of one’s integrity and honor.
But despite these important family values, as a first-generation student, I lacked the resources or institutional knowledge to easily navigate the U.S. education system — it took me seven years just to complete college. Now that our nieces and nephews are getting ready to go to college, we make sure they have the tools to navigate the complex higher education system. This is part of our family culture: a shared responsibility to pass along what you learn, paving the way for the next generation. Our family also instilled a sense of belonging and security that gave us the courage to take risks — after all, there’s no bigger risk than immigrating to a foreign land.
Imagine if school communities embodied Latino family norms; where responsibility is shared, accountability is collective and a sense of belonging lives. Can you imagine what that might look like? We strive to do this every day at our school. Like many Latino families, we emphasize working in groups and collaborative efforts over a focus on the individual.
“We see you and got you.” Those words hold power. It’s about knowing that your community, your group, has your back. Family has your back. This is something we discuss at our schools because it resonates deeply with our students: to be seen, to know you are unconditionally supported. At Aspire Public Schools’ Los Angeles-area schools, where the majority of our students identify as Latino, we embrace this idea, to make our students feel safe and supported unconditionally, in everything we do.
For example, at Aspire Ollin University Prep where I worked for 12 years, we created an advisory group program at our secondary school. Freshmen are placed into micro-communities of about 30 students with one teacher who stays with the group all four years. Weekly community circles and guided conversations about issues that affect our scholars’ lives help them feel seen and supported. Like a large, extended family, these groups benefit from collaborative learning, shared responsibility and an environment built on trust and belonging.
Programs like this allow us to create a familial identity at Aspire. We focus on students’ social-emotional learning, equity work and culturally relevant pedagogy that helps students feel supported. But most importantly, we leverage each other’s humanity. We support each other in providing a learning space for students and staff. A place where students learn from teachers and each other. A place where teachers learn from their students and their colleagues. Just like we learn from family.
When you think about how family roots children, gives them a sense of confidence and purpose and offers space to be who they really are — how could you not want to embed those values in a school? We want these ideals to resonate deeply with our students. When a community of trust and belonging exists, students have the freedom to take risks and follow their intellectual curiosity. Instilling a school culture with family-inspired values brings out the genius in our students and gives them the space to enjoy their education and discover their own passions. This is how we honor Latino culture — every day.
Joel Ramirez is the son of immigrant parents from Jalisco, Mexico, and has been an educator for more than 15 years as a teacher, school administrator. He’s now Aspire Public School’s senior director of culturally responsive leadership development in Los Angeles.
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 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.
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 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.
By Tony Solina, Area Superintendant, Central Valley Region
In March 2020, as schools closed their doors, we were forced to adapt to the sudden shift to our daily routines and learn other strategies to make distance learning work. Now, three months back into in-person learning, we see daily examples of a new learning curve: not being able to wait to use the restroom, forgetting to raise your hand before speaking and struggling to take turns on the playground.
These things remind me just how long we were away.
While these examples may seem small, it was clear to me that they are markers of a larger challenge. After 18 months away, the fabric of our community had begun to fray. We’d forgotten what it looked like to learn together and eroded part of the foundation of trust and care on which we built our students’ education. Especially after the devastating emotional and mental toll of the pandemic, it is almost unthinkable to imagine asking students to learn to read, play an instrument or solve algebra equations without first rebuilding a nurturing and safe environment.
As superintendent of Aspire Public Schools’ Central Valley region, this was both overwhelming and energizing. I knew it would help us to focus on what really matters in our schools and that it would require immediate attention to rebuild the community that is so central to what our staff, scholars and families love about our schools.
Creating this culture is simpler than we often make it out to be. We believe learning doesn’t occur until all students feel included, loved and safe. That means we make community building and the social-emotional care of our students a priority. We treat social-emotional learning with the same focus and attention as math and history, leveraging a dedicated curriculum that we apply inside classrooms and in conversations among staff and with families. And we encourage our teachers to take time — real time, during the school day — to get to know students and listen intently to their needs and challenges. When you make it clear that relationships, belonging and wellness matter, then you build a culture that centers on community. School is not merely in the physical buildings where we learn, but it’s also in the relationships we build among adults and scholars.
And yet, simple as it may be, it takes a lot of work and investment from every person who interacts with our students to make it a reality. We have created structures across our school, within classrooms, and in partnership with parents that reinforce this value.
Our advisory classes focus on social-emotional wellness and social justice, giving students a dedicated space to honor their identities and create community. Morning-meeting circles establish a warm environment to start the day. We carve out dedicated time for teachers to collaborate, building bonds and lines of communication to more holistically support students. And we engage students and families in their learning, leaving our doors open for parents to observe classes and instituting innovative engagement models. Our student-led conferences and Saturday Schools provide students with an active role in communicating their progress and give parents a window into their students’ day-to-day learning. While these practices predate the pandemic, they have emerged post-pandemic as more essential than ever.
All of these strategies require both the simple commitment to making our community a priority and the dedicated time and effort of every team member. And I’m beginning to see the impact of our hard work. Our community is slowly stitching itself back together, in many ways stronger than it was before.
Do we have it all figured out? Of course not. But the rhythm of our days is becoming more consistent and the feelings of our community — joy, stability, belonging — are filling our hallways and classrooms again.
As schools across our country have fought our way through another confusing fall, I encourage my fellow school leaders to take a good look at the health of your school community. We are all being pulled in many directions, from urgent concerns about Covid-19 — contact tracing, independent study, staffing shortages — to the daunting challenges of learning loss. But underneath all that is the foundation we build for learning and the community we create for our students, teachers, and families.
Pay close attention to that community, make it a priority and invest in it appropriately, and I truly believe that is how we will get back on course to provide the learning and opportunities that every student deserves.