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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.