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In Their Own Words: Coming Full Circle with DPS

Oct. 24, 2019
Posed portrait of woman smiling at the camera over a background of Montbello campus

by Esmeralda Rodriguez, Montbello High School ’08

My name is Esmeralda Rodriguez and I love helping the students and families of Denver Public Schools (DPS). I grew up in Denver and attended DPS schools – Beach Court and Maxwell Elementary Schools, MLK Jr. Middle School, and Montbello High School, which I graduated from in 2008. Currently, as a college advisor at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College with the Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF), I help high school students navigate the college application process. I relate to the uncertainty they feel because I have stood in their place, nervous and unsure about the next phase of my life.

Early on, my parents must have noticed a spark in me that screamed out, ‘she loves to learn’, because at every stage of my education, they provided extraordinary support. As very hard-working people who moved to this area from Mexico with the equivalent of a middle school education, they always held a high regard for education. In fact, they insisted that I not work afterschool jobs to focus on having a rich school experience. Their support planted the first seeds of growth toward my personal and academic aspirations.

As a shy, introverted freshman, I could have been one of those ‘good but wandering’ students if it hadn’t been for teachers like Mr. Rochello, who constantly motivated me to try harder. Working with high school students now, I see how incredibly valuable it is to have resources like DPS does, such as concurrent enrollment, internships, and even hands-on career development or on-the-job opportunities throughout high school, which enrich students’ overall school experience and steady their decision-making process about life after graduation. I know, because programs like that at Montbello helped me find my path toward my future.

Toward the end of my sophomore year, I discovered the TRiO Upward Bound Program with Colorado State University (CSU). This program single-handedly changed the way I viewed myself and the possibility of attending college. My self-confidence grew out of interactions with other students like me, who were hoping to be the first in their families to go to college. As a result of the relationships and support, I became more assertive and willing to speak for myself. During that time I became a National Honors Society member and made the Montbello Warriors volleyball team. The seemingly impossible became possible, and the experiences I gained along the way opened my eyes to a much wider world than I never knew existed.

On the surface, my journey could seem like a singular, force-of-nature phenomenon where one person overcame the odds by herself. It is not! As much as I was driven by my love of learning and discovery, my experience was made more profound and rich by the supportive people who helped me at every step. Sean Jaster at Upward Bound at CSU provided a thread of support and encouragement. And my DSF college advisor Charles E. Duke from kept me afloat throughout an often-treacherous college and scholarship application process.

These days, I share with my students the lessons I’ve learned along the way, like not giving up when there are difficulties staring back at you. I tell them how difficult it was for me to apply for college, hoping I could secure scholarships so that my parents would not have to absorb so much financial debt and stress. I tell them that failure sometimes comes with this process, as well as success. I did not get a much-coveted scholarship I thought I was qualified for. But my DSF college advisor looked at me and simply said, “Do not let this get in your way!” Ultimately,  I earned a Daniels Fund Scholarship and other awards that helped pay for my education at CSU, where I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work along with an Interdisciplinary Leadership Studies minor.

I believe there’s something powerful in giving back to our community. As a proud DPS alumna, it feels like a wonderful sort of deja vu, being able to work at a DPS school and with remarkable DPS students and families who carry the dream I once carried.