Oscar Cortes, 12th grade, Summit Sierra

I never planned on going to a charter public school. A friend who enrolled at Summit insisted that I try it out for the first week and see how it was, and I just fell in love with it.

I always wanted to go to college, but before Summit, I didn’t know how I’d go about that. In middle school, I did learn, I did do the work, but it never felt like there was a purpose behind the work. It was like: go to school, get work done, go home, get homework done, repeat. When I came here it instantly felt different. The big goal behind everything that we do here is get accepted to a four-year university.

My mentor is Ms. Gomez. As a freshman, I didn’t understand what a mentor was. I had never had someone I could talk to about academics and also stuff that is more personal. These days, we are talking a lot about college, but we always have personal conversations about what’s happening in my life.

I grew up with my mom and three siblings. I’ll be the first person in my immediate family to go to college, which is a little nerve-wracking. I think it’s been assumed that I’ll be the first one to go college and set the standard for everyone else. I’ve always tried to push farther and at the same time, not get in my head too much.

My family is always there support me, but the high expectations have taken a toll on me at times. It wasn’t just my family’s expectations, but also my own. I’ve known I wanted to go to college I just didn’t know how I’d go about it, where I would want to go if my grades and test scores were good enough.

My mentor and teachers have made all the difference. They see me as a whole person—not just a student, but as a human. I can put my stress out there, talk about it, and not have it carry it by myself. I respect my teachers so much. They put in a lot of work to set up after school meetings and events and to have school representatives from different colleges to come here and talk to us. I used to be very stubborn when it comes to accepting help, but now, I don’t take that for granted.

And here we are, just two months away from graduation, and I’ve been accepted to five different colleges – it’s crazy! I’ll be starting the University of Washington in the fall.

The other life-changing thing I’ve gotten from this school is the opportunity to do program called Speak with Purpose. I didn’t even want to do it, but I just fell in love with it. I started writing speeches, that turned to poetry, and then spoken word, which is what I do and what I’m known for.

My freshman year, I did a speech about my mom at a competition, and they created an award for me – the People’s Choice Award – given to the speech hit them the most. It’s grown into a lot of different things. Last year I talked a lot about insecurities and what it means to be a man. I just write about what I’ve learned and who I am. I sort of joke that it’s my job to make people cry.

I have the opportunity and the responsibility to leave a legacy for future students, and shape our school culture. My little brother and sister are actually coming to Summit next year, so that responsibility is even more personal.

I am captain of our ultimate frisbee club, which I co-founded freshman year. I wanted a team, so I went up to my new classmates, and was like, “Do you guys want to go outside and throw a frisbee around?” It grew from there. Eventually we figured out how to get into a league, and junior year, Ms. Temes, a math teacher, became our coach. We started doing tryouts and having team meetings. And we just formed relationships. I never thought about our legacy until this year then it was like whoa – we have younger players on the team, and next year it’s their turn to take over the team.

If it weren’t for Summit, I would not be as prepared as I am. I know what I’m getting myself into in terms of education, student loans, and all this other financial stuff, and just learning how to be an adult in general. I’ll never know for sure if I would have gotten the same preparation at another school, but I certainly got it here.