Originally published on blog.wearedream.org and repurposed with consent for the GIVE blog in honor of International Youth Day.
As late spring rolls around each year, 12th grade students across the U.S. face the challenge of choosing what college they will attend. Daniela Torres, a senior at DREAM Charter High School, is no different in that respect—she is debating between staying in New York City to attend Barnard or traveling to the West Coast for a spot at Stanford. But four short years ago, when Daniela faced a similar choice between which New York City high school she would attend, the answer was much easier. She was only accepted at one.
“I was completely lost in the process,” she said. “I put my heart and soul into those applications, and I didn’t get into any of the schools.”
While unbelievable to imagine now given the caliber of colleges Daniela has been accepted to, a look back at her journey unveils the hurdles she has overcome, including immigrating to New York on her own from Veracruz, Mexico in the seventh grade. Armed with only a bit of English, Daniela found it difficult to communicate and make her voice heard. She struggled making friends.
I look at my past decisions and realize I’m not scared. DREAM made me stronger.
Daniela Torres ’21
After several months in the States, Daniela met DCHS Founding Principal Jared Francis at a school fair. He was familiar with her story, and knew DREAM would be able to provide her with the specific support she needed to shine. Daniela joined the DREAM family as an eighth grader, but it still took several months for her to break through her insecurities about speaking in front of her classmates. When she did, it was a day to remember.
“The first time she spoke in class, we actually have it documented in an email,” said Alison Browne, Daniela’s 8th grade social studies teacher. “Students were debating a topic, and out of nowhere she jumped in, and passionately shared what she thought. Everyone stopped and listened. It was an important moment for her, for her classmates, and for her teachers, and showed us that she was someone to be heard.”
From that moment, Daniela gained a reputation as a quiet yet insightful leader among both her peers and DREAM’s teachers and administrators. While her nature is to listen first, she isn’t afraid to speak out when important and necessary. As Browne explains it, she has an “impressive balance of humility and charge.”
“Daniela doesn’t think she’s direct, but if you ask her for feedback, thoughts, she’s clear and honest,” said Brandon Taylor, DCHS’ Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “She’s the student I go to for an opinion, and that’s an important characteristic.”
Now, on the verge of graduating high school, Daniela faces a college decision with two life-changing options. Ultimately, she wants to find the best pre-med program that will allow her to study the relationship between genetics and neuroscience, a topic that has interested her since her grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. And while her first inclination was to stay in New York City—and close to the support systems she has built since arriving here as a 7th grader—Daniela knows she is capable of striking out on her own if that’s the right path for her.
“I look at my past decisions and realize I’m not scared,” she said. “DREAM made me stronger.”