Senior Spotlight: Chelsea Cordoba | Summit Olympus, Tacoma

Jun 26, 2024 | Student Spotlights

Chelsea Cordoba began the application process for the prestigious Act Six Scholarship in January. Act Six is a “leadership development and scholarship program for young leaders who want to use their college education to make a difference on campus and in their home communities.” There were four phases of the application process. The first was the application itself, the second included recorded videos of her responses to questions, the third required written essays, and the fourth took place in person with other applicants working sometimes solo and often in small groups.

Chelsea had the opportunity to describe her perspectives on adapting and working in and with a diverse community. She spoke about what inspires her future plans and how she envisions she will personally create an impact. After reading about the experiences of people from a variety of backgrounds she and other applicants imagined living and working to thrive in the face of a myriad of challenges. After four long months, Chelsea was awarded the Act Six Scholarship this spring. And this proud graduate of Summit Public Schools | Olympus’ Class of 2024 will attend Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) on a full scholarship in the fall.

Chelsea Cordoba

Summit Public Schools | Olympus (Summit | Olympus), a charter public school in Washington, was not different than other public schools statewide when COVID 19 stomped hard on the brake of normal, daily life. Rather than the nervous excitement of the first weeks and months of her freshman year of high school, Chelsea was learning from home. Even P.E. was online, creating embarrassing spectacles of jogging around the yard together with her classmates – over Zoom.

Yet, Chelsea’s enduring memories are of being together with her close friends and the teachers and staff who supported them. She was aware she could create a bond with the school leader, Mr. Clarke.

“He doesn’t see us as a number. We’re students to him. He knows our names, he wants to know us, I think that’s what’s important and what makes our school very unique…our principal takes his time to check in and say, ‘how are you doing’ and say ‘hi, high five!’ There are days when I think I’m hiding how stressed or upset I am, and he stops me and says, ‘hey are you ok?’ and then he asks again ‘are you sure b/c you don’t look ok.’”

Chelsea articulated that the genuine care staff had for students made a difference.

“Staff is paying attention to assignments, know who we are, where we’re going. If our mentor isn’t able to get hold of one student, she asks students to reach out. They really make us feel like they want us there – like they know what we need. Yes, our school takes academics seriously but also takes mental health seriously. Since we are teens, that is very important – going through many different stages because we also need mental health.”

For Chelsea, the bonds created with her mentors and teachers at Summit | Olympus were a significant factor in her success in high school. The restrictions of the pandemic waned, but initially the uncertainty of being together with other students, connecting with each other in person to talk and form deeper friendships was difficult. Mentor Mr. Johnson really provided a safe space for Chelsea and her peers to reconnect during their difficult sophomore year. Later, Mentor Mrs. Crain was firm in her expectations about what Chelsea could do. “She specifically told me I could get my Bs to As. She pushed me beyond what I thought I could do because she had faith in us…I finished off strong with As.”

Chelsea recalled that Mrs. Crain was there for her and other students emotionally, checking in frequently, facilitating student-led groups (“circles”) empowering them to express how they were feeling, acknowledging pressure they felt under and posing other questions every week that encouraged them to connect together. For Chelsea, the ups and downs of COVID  threatened to make her an introvert when she was usually an extroverted person so the extra effort by Mrs. Crain and other staff made it easier to open back up and speak. “It was easy to adapt because staff there to support and be there for us.”

Chelsea plans to major in Criminal Justice and minor in Spanish at PLU. In describing why she chose both, she is clear on using her voice for people who are unheard and the strength of her education to elevate others so they can speak up for themselves. Her parents immigrated from Mexico and their experiences motivate her.

“I will be well-educated and the first generation of my family graduating with a bachelor’s degree. My parents and family and everyone out there who really need someone to advocate for them. That’s one of the biggest reasons. I know I can be that power for them.”

What will she remember most about high school? One “core memory” was arriving at school to pick up her Chromebook (and yoga mat) and there was school leader Mr. Clarke, greeting everyone. She recalls succinctly how welcome and excited people were toward her. “They didn’t know me, but they were excited to have me there. I also felt that they already believed in me even though they don’t know who I am.” The bonds formed, the human connections and the support she experienced are all factors in what Chelsea believes were fundamental to her success in school.

“Mrs. Crain pushing me to do better to get As, Mr. Clarke checking in on me saying ‘hey are you ok’ or just encouraging me, my teachers reminding me ‘hey you got this’ – even other teachers checking in and making sure you’re ok. It would have been different without it.”

The impact of a global pandemic on the graduates of the Class of 2024 will hopefully ease over the years ahead. Chelsea’s advice for future grads will stand the test of time:

“Don’t wait until last minute to get assignments in and also use your time wisely and your time in class talking and participating. If you have free time – use it – and you’re going to be glad that you’re done early because you were able to focus. Enjoy your time in high school because after that… it already hit me because I’m going into the real world, so enjoy it, don’t take the drama too seriously – you’re going to look back and laugh.”