By Stephanie Aguilera
Irma L. Rangel Young Women’s Leadership Academy Alumna Class of 2009
This story originally published in the 2016 Young Women’s Preparatory Network Annual Report.
As a Young Women’s Preparatory Network graduate and current Young Women’s Prep teacher, I graduated from Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA) in the first class of our network. My classmates, our teachers and I experienced a unique set of challenges along the way, but we overcame them with persistence, passion and teamwork.
Founding Principal, Vivian Taylor and Young Women’s Prep founders, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Posey, led a strong staff to achieve their vision of preparing girls for success in college. I took a risk in joining this new school, because I believed I would receive the same challenge and rigor at a public school for free.
My first encounter with my 26 classmates and teachers at Irma Rangel was at summer camp. I honestly cannot remember much, but I can remember getting to know my sisters and receiving the “First Class Leaders” summer camp t-shirt (that I still own). I immediately noticed the Young Women’s Prep difference: Students were there to learn and challenge themselves. We were fueled on girl power and the goal of graduating from college.
The next four years proved to be difficult, but worth it. There were plenty of days when I wanted to quit and leave to have a normal high school experience. My teachers experienced those days with us, and to be honest, now that I teach at a YWLA school, I sometimes understand why.
When I return to Rangel as an alumna, and see the walls overflowing with pride, new organizations, and student leadership, I am proud to have struggled in our beginning years. Plus, we were catching the attention from districts, because we were succeeding in proving that public, single-gender education is empowering.
I knew the frustration and hard work were worth it when I was accepted to the University of Notre Dame. I am a first-generation, American-born citizen and a first-generation college graduate. My parents moved to the U.S. for me to get a good education and graduate from college. However, as much as they wanted me to go to college, they had no experience with the application and financial aid process. Thankfully, Mr. Posey pushed to apply out of state and my College Bound Advisor worked with us to make college a reality.
I joined the San Antonio staff after being placed in the San Antonio Independent School District by Teach for America (TFA). I majored in Political Science and Latino Studies and was upset with the lack of educational opportunities afforded to people like me. I was accepted to TFA and various law schools, but my end goal is to work in education reform or with an organization like Young Women’s Prep that brings innovative, high-achieving schools to neighborhoods, like the one in which I grew up. I am passionate about our network, because our girls deserve an excellent education and the doors that it will open for them and their families.
I decided to accept my TFA offer over law school and I plan to stay in education. When I found out I was being placed in a city with a YWLA campus, I emailed Principal Delia McLerran to let her know that I would be moving to San Antonio. The San Antonio school had not graduated its first class yet and I wanted to help, so she hired me before I could apply anywhere else.
As soon as I was hired, I reached out to my former teachers to let them know, and I visited with them for any advice or resources that they could share. They were more than willing to meet with me because we had already formed strong teacher-student relationships at Rangel. They had served as my mentors while I was a student, and continue to serve as mentors as a peer teacher. In addition to teaching middle school, I’ve coached sports, served as the student council founder and sponsor, middle-school math department chair, Class of 2020 class sponsor, and more. Together, we have accomplished a Blue Ribbon status in our first year of eligibility.
When 21 seniors crossed the stage in 2009 and became the first graduating class of Irma Rangel, we were humbled by our college acceptances and scholarships. In June 2016, YWLA San Antonio graduated its third class, and all 35 young women were accepted to four-year colleges with $9.5 million in offers of academic and merit scholarships. I am proud to be a part of this network, both as a graduate and as a teacher.