Not long ago, Dulce Grant was a college freshman, nervous and unsure as the first in her family to attend college. Now 27 with a bachelor’s degree in political, legal and economic analysis, she’s mentoring other students from her high school facing the same insecurities and pressures. Occasionally, she stops by campuses to see how they’re doing.
We are proud to share that two of our teachers, John Miluso and John Benoit, from DCP Alum Rock High School were honored at this year’s Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) Teacher Recognition Celebration.
We invite you to learn a little more about these two outstanding teachers. Below are excerpts from their nominations, submitted by Principal Terri Furton.
John Miluso: Teacher of the Year for a County-Authorized Charter School
“John Miluso was a founding teacher at DCP Alum Rock beginning in 2011. His life’s work is grounded in equity and justice. His dedication is unmatched. He is the heartbeat of our school.
Mr. Miluso challenges students to meet proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening. Students labor to annotate and discuss articles in both US History and Environmental Ethics, a course he created to study the moral relationship between human beings, the environment and its non-human components.
John is a warm demander who loves students so much that he is able to elicit their very best work. One component of his U.S. History final was for students to write “MyStory” poems, incorporating 6 historical people or events and how they mirror or inspire each student’s story. In Environmental Ethics, students had to develop and orally present “How Shall I Live My Life?” speeches, which included their life ethic.
A Renaissance man himself, trilingual in Spanish and Italian, and a musician, Mr. Miluso founded our monthly SWAG Nights – Students With Artistic Goals. Not a talent show, but an opportunity for students to share their goals and gifts with other students. It is amazing to see very shy students, some who have been marginalized in the past, stand in front of their peers on a Friday afternoon and sing a solo!
Additionally, John’s passion to reverse ethnic representation in the courtrooms of San Jose inspired him to launch a Mock Trial team in 2015, the only team in East San Jose.”
John Benoit: 2019 Texas Instruments Innovations in STEM Teaching Award
“Mr. Benoit came to us in August 2016 through an Intel retirement incentive, volunteering in our Engineering classes. Hired part-time, he soon became a full-time fixture on campus, jumping right into establishing relationships with students and taking time to explain concepts in ways they could understand.
As a volunteer, Mr. Benoit assisted with Project Lead the Way courses: Introduction to Engineering, Principles of Engineering (Robotics), and Engineering Design Development (Advanced Engineering). In 2017-18, Mr. Benoit launched an introductory-level Computer Science course for all students in grades 9-12, also sponsored by Project Lead the Way. John has the skill of planning a unit of study, thinking through how he might modify the national curriculum provided, and implementing it in a way that best meets the needs of students. In addition, he brings in creative projects and ideas for programming and the like. In 2018-19, John taught both Computer Science and Principles of Engineering using the PLTW curriculum. Next year, he will enhance our program with AP Computer Science.
Mr. Benoit utilizes his connections in the industry to impact young lives and further STEM education. He assisted our Rocketry team in their competitions, drove them to the Central Coast on several Saturdays, and in general he steps in to help with any opportunity that exposes them to the Silicon Valley technology world. He partnered with TEALS, a local non-profit that matches community mentors with Computer Science classes to work more closely with students. Lastly, he secured a $10,000 Computer Science grant for the upcoming school year and is engaging our students to help other students in the community develop a passion for Computer Science.
He is an educator and community changer at heart.”
About SCCOE’s Teacher Recognition Celebration: A Santa Clara County tradition enduring for 50 years, the Teacher Recognition Celebration is the oldest and largest celebration of teachers in California and the most prestigious local award given to classroom teachers. The Teacher Recognition Celebration every fall honors the county’s finest teachers, each selected by their respective school districts.
Every spring at DCP we pause to honor the moment in which a young person commits to the college of their choice. We do this with the awareness that it is a monumental, life-changing decision. But after two decades of doing this work, we also recognize that this moment does not represent the entirety of the experience. It is just one milestone along the journey to college completion.
That journey can feel simultaneously triumphant and incredibly isolating. No one knows this more deeply than our Alumni Success Counselor, Dulce Bermudez Grant. She graduated from DCP in 2011 and went on to attend Mills College. In her own experience, she was caught off guard when she found herself struggling academically for the first time in her life. And like many of the challenges faced by first-generation, low-income students, her academic difficulties didn’t exist in a silo. She suddenly found herself asking more unnerving questions like, “Is something wrong with me? Is it the school or am I just not supposed to be here?”. At the time, she felt like she couldn’t share with anyone, including her family. “I felt like I had to keep performing. Acknowledging my struggle to my family would make them stress out and worry, and I didn’t want to let them down.” Dulce eventually found her footing and even went on to create a mentorship program Sister Sister for local high school students in Oakland. After a brief stint in local politics, Dulce came to DCP with a passionate vision for DCP’s Alumni Success Program and the type of culture she wanted to create.
Now in her fourth year as alumni counselor, Dulce is proud of the culture that exists. She finds that DCP graduates, especially it’s most recent cohorts, feel comfortable seeking out support from their alma mater. And perhaps one of the most critical pieces of this culture building strategy is her team of alumni mentors. Composed of DCP graduates who are either in college or recent college graduates themselves, they are focused on supporting students in their first and second year in college. This can include any mix of being present on their college campus, setting up individual appointments and being available via phone/text. And while the student checklist is lengthy, especially in that first year — a lot of times, these connection points are about giving students space to process the spectrum of emotions they are experiencing. Dulce shares that there is an inherent trust that exists when the person sitting across from you has walked in your shoes in such a familiar way. There is the shared experience of DCP and the empathy of being first-generation. “When there is trust, students are open to sharing their struggles. The conversations become about topics you can’t get from a checklist.”
DCP’s Alumni Success Team has begun producing short videos on trending topics for first-generation college students: “Tips for a Successful First Day of College” and “Balancing All Your Adulting Responsibilities”.
These conversations often center around sustainable financial planning, academic progress and compatibility, campus/community engagement, and social life vis-à-vis family, friends and partners. And perhaps most critically, getting students to build their 4-year plan in order to put them on a trajectory towards timely transfer and graduation. “We are making sure our alumni arrive on their first day of college as prepared as they can be for what to expect that first year. A strong first-year means students can go into years 2, 3 and 4 much more confident and equipped”, adds Dulce.
In addition to their work on the frontlines, Dulce along with DCP’s College Success Team are partnering with Dr. Rebecca Covarrubias, who is an Assistant Professor and Lab Director of the Culture & Achievement Collaborative at UC Santa Cruz on a longitudinal research study. The study is examining the cultural transition to college for first-generation, Latinx students with the ultimate goal of transforming the way in which postsecondary institutions understand and serve this growing student population. Early findings in the study show that many first-generation, low-income students of color come from cultures, families and communities that value and thrive/survive on a shared value of interdependence; whereas colleges and universities expect and reward independence and individual achievement. While some may consider the Alumni Success Program’s holistic approach to student support superfluous or a deterrent to developing independence, we understand that communal support is critical to our alumni’s success in college. We are privileged to have our very own graduates leading that effort.
DCP’s Alumni Success Program supports over 500 college-age graduates that are attending 2 and 4 year colleges, as well as alumni who have reverse transferred or have stopped out and wish to resume their postsecondary education. On average, 95% of DCP graduates enroll in college directly after high school. 53% of DCP graduates have graduated or are on track to graduate within 6 years compared to 14% nationwide for low-income students who earn a Bachelor’s degree. Since 2004, DCP has graduated over 1100 students.
Kesia Meneses is a single mother of five; living and leading in high rent Silicon Valley. She has two children that currently attend DCP El Camino Middle School. She shares how DCP has helped her put and keep her young scholars on track for college.
“My oldest son was never told that he could go to college. He didn’t complete high school and is still trying to find his way as a contributing member of society”. Kesia shares, “my other kids would be at a third grade academic level if they were going to a traditional school, that’s what happened to my first son”. With her younger children, she has found hope in charter schools. At DCP they “put the idea of college in their heads and makes them believe that they can do it!”
She shares that she feels safe sending her two middle school students to DCP and notices that “they make you feel like a leader, very welcome, and as if you were part of their family.” Her 7th grader was on honor roll this year and is participating in a summer enrichment program with Hidden Villa; a special partnership with DCP where students spend two weeks living in nature and learning leadership skills. He received a full scholarship to participate.
Being at a charter school has been a transformative experience not just for her children but also for her. This past year she was elected as School Site Council President for DCP El Camino. The SSC provides an opportunity to develop shared leadership and communication with school administration and staff. Members are voted into the SSC and there is a shared representation of teachers, administrators and parents. You will also frequently find Kesia volunteering in initiatives to help engage other parents. This past spring, she created a parent committee representing all four DCP schools that is organizing parents to stand for their childrens’ education.
This past semester Kesia also decided to model a growth mindset for her children by completing, along with 36 other parents, the middle school Parent Academy; a 4-part college readiness workshop series. The workshops helped parents create a stronger college going mindset, gave them tools to support their student’s academics and understand the grading systems, as well as how to plan a successful learning summer and beyond; all the way to college. “My son has to start being a leader at school now because colleges want to see everything in a student, not just good grades” Kesia reflects from the workshops she attended this year. “I am more alert and prepared for high school.”
Kesia knows that her middle schoolers are in good hands and she too has made the commitment and believes that every child has the potential to go to college. “DCP is a school with strong academics, the teachers have high expectations for our children… they have given my son so much, they have given him the power and self confidence to be himself and want to do better.”
This parent feature was contributed by Mercedes Carbajal, DCP’s Family Engagement Manager. “Our DCP families are thriving and being equipped for college success; they are becoming active partners in their child’s education!!”. DCP is committed to engaging parents to their full potential so together, we can better support our DCP students on their journey to and through college.
Julia Alvarez, DCP alum class of 2012, recently began working at Adobe as a Cloud Services Software Developer on the Digital Imaging Team — one of the few Latinas in the company. Although Alvarez grew up in Silicon Valley, she admits, “I didn’t appreciate living in the tech world until I left it.” Alvarez had a solid math and science background during her four years at DCP and started the AP Biology Club because she had a passion for learning and was constantly discovering ways to learn outside the classroom. Despite her budding career in computer science, Alvarez admits the only experience she had with computers growing up was fixing the family’s broken computers similar to computer repair in Prescott, Arizona and what they deal with on a daily basis. Soon she might be doing it for a living as well!
Alvarez’s first real introduction to technology occurred at Brown University during an unexpected encounter with a fellow student.
“I was carrying bags of groceries from the local store. A student offered to help me, with the caveat that I would attend an introduction to a computer science course. I immediately became interested in the course and signed up.”
Alvarez enrolled in the class but struggled through it. The course was too difficult for her as she had never coded before, and she began to doubt her ability to succeed in computer science and dropped the class.
When Alvarez returned home from winter break, still feeling defeated from her efforts at computer science, she was encouraged to participate in a local Hack-a-Thon. This opportunity encouraged people from any level of technological background to participate in computer programming. “I felt very welcome and supported. The experience made me want to take another course. For the first time, I felt as if I could succeed at technology, so I enrolled in a more basic computer class at Brown and then re-enrolled in the same class I had dropped. This time, I passed with success!”
Alvarez earned a paid internship in Silicon Valley during her summer break. The experience promoted a love for programming and Alvarez recognized the lucrative financial impact a career in technology could have on her future.
Alvarez graduated from Brown University in 2017, majoring in Independent Modern Culture and Media with an Emphasis in Computer Science. She is the first in her family to graduate from college. This summer, Alvarez hopes to teach computer science at Adobe through their Girls Who Code program.
“My dream and aspiration is to go back and teach computer science to students, especially girls. I want them to gain the self-confidence to apply for careers in STEM. My field lacks female representation, especially by minorities, and I want to help change that.”
Latinos currently make up only 7% of the STEM workforce. DCP is working to increase the number of students of color and women prepared to pursue STEM degrees and careers. To learn more about DCP’s STEM program visit dcp.org/stem.
Growing up in a low-income San Jose neighborhood, DCP class of 2004 alum and first-generation college graduate, Armando Cervantes, didn’t realize he could achieve anything beyond a high school education.
His journey from a wayward teenager to a second-year medical student began when Armando’s mother enrolled him at DCP after seeing his grades steadily declining.
“I didn’t consider college until going to DCP. It’s hard to image a future you’ve never been exposed to. As far as I was concerned, graduating from high school was a victory because most of the people I hung out with had dropped out. Now, [at DCP], I had everyone telling me everyday I’m going to college. After a while, you start to believe it, too.”
After struggling through DCP both academically and socially, Armando was able to raise his grades enough to be accepted into San Jose State University.
He graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in advertising and accepted an internship at a prestigious advertising agency in Long Beach. Despite his success, Armando felt unfulfilled with his work. He returned to San Jose with a goal of finding a career that excited him and would allow him to give back to the community that raised him.
His interest in medicine came after his best friend invited him to enroll in an EMT course with him. He instantly fell in love with the intricacies of the human body and knew he wanted to work in the healthcare field, but didn’t know his role.
“There are many roles in medicine that would allow me to apply my knowledge of the human body and fulfill my desire to give back. I did not know I wanted to be a physician yet, but I knew I had found the field I wanted to be in.”
Armando decided to pursue a career as a Physician Assistant (PA) and enrolled at San Jose City College to fulfill the prerequisite for PA school. During his studies, Armando met professors whose stories of childhood poverty, personal obstacles, and drive to pursue a higher education resonated with him. “Hearing their stories of success inspired mine.”
A major deciding point to pursue medical school came after talking with a classmate, from a similar background as his, who had dreamed of being a pediatrician since a little girl, but was beginning to have doubts. “I felt bothered that she would consider anything other than becoming a doctor. I was upset that here was another missed opportunity of having a community role model, someone who would work with the underserved, a minority representation in the medical field. I was upset because I felt as though I was losing my doctor. At that moment I recognized the value of becoming a physician.”
Armando will graduate from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in 2020, sixteen years after graduating DCP.
He will finish up several years of residency before returning to the Bay Area to become the first doctor from his community. Currently, only 5% of physicians in the state of California are Latino.
This post is part of our Alumni Spotlight Series, where we share the stories of DCP alumni who are accomplishing amazing things. Check out the previous post here.
As a first-generation immigrant, the path from picking fruit alongside her parents to graduating from UC Berkeley wasn’t an easy one, but for DCP Class of 2010 alum Sandra Cruz it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
Sandra came to the United States from Mexico with her family at the age of seven, and her parents had always emphasized the value of education and the importance of being a role model, especially for her younger sister. Her parents worked in the fields in Gilroy picking cherries and apricots, and Sandra worked alongside them during the summer months through her senior year of college. Growing up, she remembers them telling her she needed an education if she wanted to make a better living for herself and use her voice to help others.
“Being discriminated against as an immigrant and undocumented until age 15…seeing the discrimination based on not having a piece of paper is very dehumanizing and not right,” she says. “It’s human rights, people not having access to x, y, and z just because of lack in status. Growing up as an immigrant in this country motivates me to achieve that [career] dream.”
Since earning her UC Berkeley degree in 2014, Sandra has used her knowledge and skill set to work toward her goal of giving back to immigrants and the communities that helped shape her. After graduation, she worked at DCP, where her mission was to help parents of first-generation students by educating and informing them about college access and resource programs. She also worked at Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN), where she traveled across counties empowering immigrants with information about their rights; she even co-founded an immigrant youth program.
Sandra’s meaningful roles working within these communities have propelled her toward her next goal: becoming an immigration lawyer. She has been interested in the field of law for as long as she can remember, seeing it as the best way for her to advocate for people in the court system.
Now, as Sandra prepares to apply to law school, she is back home working for the City of Gilroy, running a community center in the part of town where she grew up.
“Each position I’ve had [since graduating from college] has always been to give back, to empower, and to drive change in communities, especially for first-generation immigrants,” she shares. “[Now, working in Gilroy] brings me back full circle and reminds me what my goal is in life. It also empowers other people in my community to want to do the same.”
DCP middle school students unveil murals created to reflect their dreams against a backdrop of political, economic, and social challenges.
Over the last 1.5 years, dozens of DCP El Camino Middle School students poured their hearts, their love, their anxieties and their skills into creating 3 sets of murals that now adorn their campus. Under the mentorship of DCP resident artist Carlos Rodriguez, 6th-8th grade students were engaged from start to finish. These students, ranging from blooming artists to self-conscious skeptics, designed the murals and did everything from covering the wood, spackling and sanding down the boards, and painting them by hand.
These murals represent a middle school coming of age story, with each grade level mural holding its own significance and beauty. During the unveiling, Carlos reflected on the stories told in each mural:
The 6th grade mural is “full of love and energy and creativity, they have not yet stopped believing in the wonder that is magic, they haven’t stopped believing in who they are”. Their art reflects that freedom of spirit.
The 7th grade mural illustrates how students are “starting to grow up and wake up and think about what they want do in the future, how the world has treated them, and what they feel”. And in the midst of that, how they have found love and support and nurturing at DCP.
The 8th grade mural captures an awakening to the the world. There is a lot of grief symbolism over loved ones lost and fractured relationships with parents. As they begin the journey into adulthood, Carlos reflected “They deserve so much more hope and to believe in themselves. They deserve to see the world as a non-threatening place”.
One of the most profound elements across the murals is a reclaiming of the world around them. Students infused humanity into images of technology and social media, and countered socio-political attacks against their community into images of empowerment and protest; celebrating their culture, their diversity, their dreams and their academic ambitions.
Faith Lujan, now a 9th grader who worked on the mural as an 8th grader, described the art by saying, “the protestors show that we need to stand for our rights, that we all have a voice, and that we need to use it. The drop of water is for the purity of the kids, and the wind is to blow away the extra flames that burn our dreams away.”
The young artists beamed as they shared about their experiences with the mural project, with a combination of giddy delight, pride and gratitude for their mentor. There is a shared sense of awe, that even the smallest contribution is now a testament of the times for generations of students.
These murals represent what makes our community so unique. We create safe spaces and opportunities for students to explore, take risks and engage the deepest parts of themselves as students and individuals. Our relationship with students begins in their pre-teen years and continues into adulthood. We are more than a school, we are a family.
This post is the first in our Alumni Spotlight Series, where we share the stories of DCP alumni who are accomplishing amazing things.
At DCP, students are encouraged from a young age to dream big and reach for the stars. For Mauricio Rivera—a DCP Class of 2011 alum and first-generation college graduate who is currently interning at Boreal Space—this lesson is now a reality.
Mauricio’s passion for computer engineering was sparked during his senior year in high school when he joined DCP’s Robotics club, run by two long-time supporters of our organization. The Robotics club instilled such a deep curiosity in Mauricio that he decided to pursue a degree in computer engineering after graduating in 2011.
Mauricio was a recipient of the DCP Scholarship, which helped fund his college education. Now, he’s inspired to give back to the community that helped him succeed through school and beyond.
“DCP has given me so much. I would have not gone through college if it weren’t for the help that DCP provided me. That is why, in a near future, I want to fund a DCP scholarship that will hopefully help a deserving student focus on academics and not tuition costs.”
Though his chosen major was a challenging course of study, Mauricio persevered and in 2017, he graduated from San Jose State University with a B.S. in computer engineering.
“Graduating from college was a life goal that I had for myself since middle school. [I focused] on the finish line and what it would mean to my family, especially my younger brother and younger cousins. I believe first-gen students have the privilege of being the catalyst of change for future generations in their family. My family was very proud because they came to the U.S with nothing, and they’re seeing their hard work pay off.”
With his degree under his belt, Mauricio is now interning as a software engineer at Boreal Space, where his responsibilities include working on software & debugging code. What excites him the most about his job are the opportunities he gets to learn from Silicon Valley veterans.
“[At Boreal Space] I have a unique opportunity to be sitting in meetings with potential investors and customers that are twice my age and have way more experience than I do. It’s really exciting to be working on a [project] that will be going to space soon.”
As the end of the year approaches, Mauricio and his team are busy preparing for their upcoming launch. DCP is sponsoring this next mission, a suborbital launch of a CubeSat (or mini satellite) that is also hosting experiments from Stanford, Singapore, and Japan. You can learn more about this mission on Boreal Space’s blog.
On Saturday, September 23, Synopsys Inc. brought together a group of 524 volunteers to take our new campus “across the finish line” as part of their annual Global Volunteer Day.
Each September, the technology company takes on a “high impact, done-in-a-day” service project, bringing together hundreds of volunteers to help pull off major transformations. This year, they selected DCP for their Global Volunteer Day, and Synopsys employees and families worked alongside our students, parents, and alumni to complete 5 important enhancement projects on our new campus:
By day’s end, not only were these projects completed, but our campus was also decked out with colorful walls, beautiful planted trees, picnic tables and more, all thanks to the hard work of our volunteers. When our 1,100 students returned to school on Monday, they were blown away by the extraordinary enhancements and filled with gratitude for the work done during this Synopsys-led event.
We appreciate and thank the hundreds of you who joined us on Global Volunteer Day; you have forever left your mark on our school! We are also grateful to Synopsys for their generosity, kindness and for bringing our communities together.
Below, check out photos from this incredible day, taken by DCP art teacher Michelle Longosz and students in her photography class: