As part of National Charter School Week, the Broad Foundation named the three finalists for the 2017 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. One of those finalists is DSST in Denver. The STEM-focused network of high schools has five campuses that have received the highest rating on the Denver Public Schools’ School Performance Framework scorecard, and DSST’s Stapleton campus was rated the #2 high school in Colorado by US News and World Report.
This post is written by DSST teacher Ariana Dominguez.
By Ariana Dominguez
Can you name a decision that changed your life forever?
Mine was in 2005, as a freshman in high school in Denver, Colorado. I spent two weeks convincing my parents that traveling on two buses and a train one-way to attend a public charter school across the city was worth it.
As a new charter school, DSST was making promises that my parents had never seen accomplished in our community. And the moment I stepped off the number 20 bus onto a beautiful and modern high school campus, I was given exactly the opportunities my family and I were promised.
With a combination of rigorous courses, instructional supports, and a focus on core values, I was introduced to a world where my identity was valued and molded. I was exposed to academic habits that would help me excel in college, and that focus on college culture brought about the sense of equity I had been dreaming of.
Also, for the first time in my educational career, I was taking a course in my first language: Spanish. My parents had always emphasized that I maintain my Spanish, but DSST pushed me beyond my base knowledge and prepared me to be completely bilingual.
By the time I applied to college, I had developed a diverse portfolio full of extracurricular activities and a transcript with courses so innovative that colleges hadn’t even heard of them yet. In recommendation letters, not only were my teachers able to talk about my academics, but they were also able to attest to my character traits and dedication to our six core values at DSST.
I was thankful, but not surprised, when the University of Colorado Boulder accepted my application and welcomed me onto their campus in 2009. I had earned it, and I felt ready.
In college, I remained motivated by DSST’s mission of “eliminating educational inequity and preparing all students for success in college and the 21st century.” That’s right, all students.
While DSST’s success was growing in Denver with the opening of more campuses, I was studying to be a teacher. Education had opened the doors to my American dream, and I owed it to my community to help more students find success.
Through the habits DSST instilled in me, I was able to maintain an excellent GPA over the course of four years at CU Boulder. Other students in my classes talked about staying up all night finishing an assignment, struggling to create a professional presentation, and in some cases even wondering what “business casual attire” meant.
I finally understood why even the small details—such as the dress code at DSST—had been so important. I remember walking up to my parents on a sunny Friday afternoon to tell them it had all been worth it.
I write this now, having come full circle. I am proud to share that this is my second year as a Spanish teacher at DSST: College View High School (CVHS).
I could not imagine working anywhere else. DSST is a cauldron of knowledge and growth, where teachers feel empowered to build strong relationships with students through relevant content and regular practice of our core values.
Fortunately, I no longer have to board two buses and a train to get to school. DSST: CVHS, which didn’t exist when I was in high school, is about 10 minutes away from my childhood home. I constantly run into my students at the local Mexican food store and am greeted by a warm “buenos días, profesora.”
I’m inspired to live our DSST mission every day and watch my students work incredibly hard to change the course of their lives. They ask many questions and show curiosity about opportunities they thought were reserved for others. They find solace in the smiles of staff members who tell them that they are changing so many futures through their hard work.
As the DSST network celebrates 10 years of 100 percent of our graduates being accepted into four-year colleges, I’m already looking forward to attending the graduation ceremony for my current sophomore students, two years from now. The hard work is no joke, but I will look them in the eye and tell them wholeheartedly that it was all worth it.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ARIANA DOMINGUEZ AND DSST PUBLIC SCHOOLS.