CATEGORY: Students

Tara Martinez Mar 5, 2024

Esther is a top-notch student. Her teacher, Ms. Purcell describes her as “an exemplary student who models the six pillars that Achievement First drives towards.” The University Prep scholar is filling her senior year schedule with everything from courses in leadership and literature to music and government. But even so, that doesn’t stop her from making meaningful connections. At University Prep, which occupies two floors and educates 400 students, Esther trails the hallways with an enthusiasm that comes right back to her. No matter where she goes, she’s greeted with smiles and warmth — from peers and teachers alike. Her bright yet humble personality makes for a strong sense of leadership, which she readily displays in her music class. Today, she and her fellow scholars are practicing for their Holiday Concert guided by music teacher Mr. Villalobos. The band has a little bit of everything — electric guitar, drums, violins, vocalists, and piano. As one of three piano players in the band, Esther comfortably nudges her peers along, encouraging them and giving them cues to indicate when something sounds just right. These signals are more than welcome from her peers. Every student in the room is invested in their collective success. They advocate for themselves and each other and discuss when they feel something’s not going well. The skill and dedication in the room is inspiring, especially considering that many of these students started their musical journeys on Zoom during the pandemic. Esther says, though, her teachers really supported her in bringing her passion for music to the classroom. “The transition to in-person was really smooth. My music teacher, Ms. Purcell, shout-out to Ms. Purcell - she is the reason why I come to school every day; she is invested in all her students. She is the reason why I got into piano,” Esther says. It’s clear that the respect and affection go both ways. During band practice with Mr. Villalobos, Ms. Purcell sits proudly in the corner of the room, watching the scholars she’s helped cultivate put their musical skills to the test. It’s heartwarming and encouraging to see, and it’s clear that Esther and all the scholars truly enjoy their days at University Prep. When class is over, Esther and Ms. Purcell walk and talk excitedly about band practice – a regular occurrence, according to Esther. “One of my favorite things about being a student here is just the environment, always feeling welcomed. I never feel like I can’t talk to my teachers or I can’t ask them questions when I’m confused. I always feel like my concerns are taken as seriously as I want them to be,” she shares. “I also feel academics is taken as seriously as the arts here – I’m taking five APs and I’m also in band and taking extracurricular activities, so it’s a good balance and helps me boost my morale for being in school.” In AP Literature, Esther fully demonstrates her critical thinking and reflective listening skills, willingness to engage in group discussion, and investment in her fellow scholars’ contributions to class. She is thoughtfully and respectfully engaged, snapping her fingers and nodding along when she agrees with points made in discussions around Socratic seminars. But this is no surprise to those who know her. AP Lit is her favorite subject, after all. “I love AP Literature, not specifically because of the essays that we’re writing. I just love reading books, I love analyzing books, and talking about it. We get to have so many discussions and talk about it in a way that I get to enjoy it – we talk about characters, and it makes it fun to learn about,” she offers when asked about the subject. Her favorite book she’s read this year is Frankenstein, which she says is “great commentary on nature.” As a future Political Science major, Esther also loves AP Government. “We get to talk about what the structure of government actually is. I get to actually understand,” she shares. “It’s fun. I get to learn about politics.” Whatever Esther chooses to do in the future, it’s clear her sharp mind and kind personality will make her journey into adulthood a fruitful one.   See more about life at University Prep on their Instagram page.

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Tara Martinez

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