My name is Ashley. I am a senior at Summit Sierra in Seattle. I was a founding 9th grader at Summit. And this Spring, I will be among the first charter public high school graduates in Washington state.
Let me tell you a little bit about me. I grew up in a pretty unconventional household. My parents were never married. My mom has struggled with substance abuse for a lot of my life. I live with my dad, who has been my rock.
My parents came from two completely different worlds, and two different racial backgrounds – but one thing they had in common was a lack of college education. My dad attended a community college, but due to demands from his job, he had to drop out before even completing his degree.
The fact that neither of my parents finished college is exactly why I’m college-driven. Because usually, how parents wind up, is how kids will wind up. But I like to win, and I like to prove people wrong. That’s what motivates me. I don’t want to struggle with what they’ve had to.
For my whole life, my dad has done whatever it takes to support our family – and I am extremely grateful for him. However, not having a college education has meant that he can’t always help me with my homework. To this very day, it’s difficult for him to support me with college prep—simply because he has never had the experience of applying to a four-year competitive college.
While I’ve always felt loved and supported by my dad, it is ME who has been in control of my education since I was pretty young. Which is how I came to find Summit Sierra.
I learned about Summit from our principal, Ms. Burns, who personally came to my middle school to talk to us about Summit’s vision. She talked about how it was a rigorous college prep school model with a strong track record of getting ALL kids to college. She also talked about how we wouldn’t benefit from just an education, but core characteristics and a strong work ethic needed to thrive in high school and years beyond.
Immediately I was sold! I snuck onto my phone in class and hastily enrolled at Summit online.
My assigned high school didn’t have the best reputation, and I did not want to head down the same road as my parents. So … I stomached the thought of starting the school year in August and attended Sierra my freshmen year. Throughout my four years here I’ve taken my education very seriously, determined to not only be the first to graduate college in my immediate family but to also prove to myself that my fate is controlled by me and me only – not a vicious cycle.
But what Summit has taught me is that I do NOT have to do it alone.
I’ve had tremendous support in accomplishing my goals from my mentors, principal, and teachers.
Mr. Sobiak has been my mentor since freshman year. Ever since then, he has been with me every step of the way, pushing me and encouraging me, ensuring that I was truly holding myself accountable to the high goals I set for myself, and tackling adversities with strength and courage.
At the very beginning of freshman year we talked about college. I told Mr. Sobiak that I wanted to go to Stanford. And he responded: “You know that will take like a 4.0, right”? I was struggling in the first part of my 9th grade year – he was there – to not shame me — but to give me firm reminders about the goals I had set for myself. Those reminders helped me refocus my priorities, and to get my grades back on track.
It’s the little things like this that show me that he cares about me. If something is going on with me, he drops everything. He always answers my messages immediately and wants to know what is happening in that moment. And it’s such a great feeling to know I’m a priority.
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to let people down. Ultimately, I’m accountable to myself, but it is motivating to have someone else who cares about me and wants to see me reach my goals helping me stay on track.
Ms. DeRocco has also been my mentor this year. It’s been great to have a female mentor. I talk to her more about my life outside of school. When we talk about school, it’s less about academics, and more about how I feel here. My mentors have given me a great balance – I have Mr. Sobiak to keep me focused academically, and Ms. DeRocco keeping me on track socially and emotionally.
Beyond my mentor, I also want to acknowledge my principal Ms. Burns, and her role in my experience at Summit. Ms. Burns has been a huge help in keeping me focused, holding me to the same high standards – if not even higher.
One day, I was getting ready to go home, and she pulled into a 20-minute conversation in her office about the colleges I was applying to – because she felt I was not aiming high enough, and she wanted to offer more support. Aside from family, it’s rare to have someone like a teacher, let alone a principal, step in and step up for you like that.
This support has been a relief, to know that I’m not alone in this. The faculty at Summit truly believe in every student, even when the student does not believe in themselves – and I think that is what makes our school so special.
At Summit, I also feel seen and heard by my fellow students. A friend and I formed Black Culture Club. BCC a place for all students of color to come and talk about the issues we face, and find comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Even at a tight-knit school, it’s nice to have a community that’s even tighter. We have a lot of creative control. And right now, we are planning a gala that we’ll be hosting in the Spring.
Outside of school, I’m working at Team Read – tutoring a student who is behind grade level in reading. And I’m so proud to be an example for other students today, and to help them get back on track. I definitely would not have pursued opportunities like this had I not gone to Summit.
As for my future, I plan to be spending quite a bit of time in school after I graduate. I want to go to medical school and become an OB/GYN.
And thanks to the abundant support and guidance from my teachers, mentors, and principal at Summit, I am ready for all of life’s hurdles. I feel in control of my life, but I also now know that despite that, it is always ok to reach out. I will go on to college feeling more comfortable approaching my professors and advisors when I need help. And there will be a structure in place so that I’ll still be in touch with my mentors from Summit even in college.
I’m excited for graduation. I don’t have any fears, really. Embarking on anything new is always a little nerve wracking, but in a good way. My goals have shifted since freshman year, though. Right now my top choice is NYU but I’ll be applying to several other schools, too. What I do know is that I’m going to try my best to stay out of Seattle. I’m super grateful for what Seattle has taught me and I’m ready to share that perspective with others in a new setting.
Charter public schools like Summit are changing futures – now. It’s such a great time for charter public schools in light of the new ruling – I’m so excited to see what the future holds for so many more students like me. I’m grateful for the opportunity to leave a legacy. I hope to come back in five or ten years and tell you how much I’ve accomplished.
This story was originally delivered as a speech at WA Charters’ Game Changers Breakfast on November 13th, 2018.