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Overcoming Violence: Esmeralda’s Story

Esmeralda Cortez“Kids growing up in Oakland grow up with guns instead of their toys, with drugs instead of their pacifiers, and with gangs instead of their families. When I was in the fifth grade my brother, Hernan Cortez, was murdered. I didn’t know how to react to any of it.” She was 11 at the time. In the days and months that followed, Esmeralda started acting up in school, getting suspended frequently, until she was finally expelled. Losing a brother and getting expelled from school was challenging for Esmeralda both academically and mentally. Fortunately, Esmeralda enrolled in Aspire Lionel Wilson Preparatory Academy. Teachers and school leaders immediately stepped in, supporting her in classes and helping her cope with regular life stress. Esmeralda had teachers who challenged her, counselors who offered a little extra help when needed, and after-school programs to keep her safe and on task. Now, Esmeralda plans to attend the University of California at Berkeley. She’s unsure what path she’ll take. She could be a teacher, a politician, an activist. But whatever she does, Esmeralda dreams of making Oakland a safer place to live and to support the success of local teenagers. This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.