Rising stars of Pueblo High School

Pueblo High School is located on South 12th Avenue and West 44th Street. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News
Pueblo High School is located on South 12th Avenue and West 44th Street. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News

While Pueblo High School may carry a generalization of  being in a rough southern Tucson neighborhood, where graduation rates are low, student retention is tough and student participation is lacking- these seven students hope to rebut the reputation of their school with their very own success stories.  Here are the stories of seven seniors at Pueblo who are defying the stereotypes of their school and graduating in May of 2016.

Daniel Lopez, 19

Daniel Lopez will graduate from PHS this May. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/Arizona Sonora News
Daniel Lopez is on the PHS Cross Country team. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/Arizona Sonora News

His biggest motivator?  He says it’s his grandfather who he calls Tata José.

“When I think of the American dream I think of him,” said Daniel,

From the beginning of kindergarten to his final days at Pueblo, a hard work ethic has been drilled into his head.

Seeing what his grandfather did for their family motivates him to be the best academic he can be.

The “weird” one in his group, Daniel says it’s because he has old values.  

“Sometimes I think I should’ve been born in the 40s or 50s, I just hold myself to a higher standard.”

Daniel, also a member of MEChA, plans on attending Pima Community College in the fall then transferring to Northern Arizona University or the University of Arizona to study rangeland sciences or exercise science.

When the going gets tough, Daniel remembers a quote a teacher once told him.

“There’s only two kinds of fairs in life, the state fair and the county fair, other than that life isn’t fair.”

Valeria Chavez, 17

Valeria Chavez will graduate from PHS this May. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News
Valeria actively works with social justice organizations in Tucson and will graduate in May of 2016. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News

After transferring out of Pueblo and then returning, Valeria knew she was meant to be there.

A first generation college student and the first one in her family to graduate from high school, Valeria is breaking the norms of her family.

“I’m finally breaking the chain,” Chavez said.

However, it took her a long time to realize that she could be great.  Facing depression since she was a little girl, she hit rock bottom her sophomore year.

“I always had dreams but because of my illness, I thought I didn’t have the ability to reach them,” she said.

Not only did she learn about behavioral health and found her true calling, Valeria realized her worth through her journey facing her illness.  She found her passion through her struggle.

Valeria, who was also vice president of the College Advising Club, will attend the University of Arizona in the fall and pursue a career in psychology hoping to become a child psychiatrist and continue to advocate for social justice.

“Equality should be a human trait we’re 99.9 percent alike according to science, that .1 percent is the exterior and that really shouldn’t matter,” she said.  

Constance Mwamba, 18

Constance will graduate from PHS in May. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News
Constance is a member of the Spanish Honor Society and will graduate in the spring. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News

Constance’s journey to Tucson is not one you hear every day.  Constance and her family are refugees from the Republic of Congo, where they were forced to flee from civil war.

She speaks fluent English, Spanish and Swahili and is also a member of the Spanish Honors Society.

It took her a while to realize her academic potential.  After attending a different high school, Constance finally felt like she fit in at Pueblo and transferring there her senior year.

“No one knew who I was at my other school,” she said.  “I knew the potential was there, but it was slowly fading away.”

Now, Constance says that her academic success is what is going to define her future.

“Academics is saying who you are, it shows what kind of person you are,” she said.

After she and her family left Congo, they moved to Mumbai, where her father was a doctor for a small village.

Now, she aspires to be a doctor and said her father has been her biggest mentor.  Although he is not a certified doctor in the United States, he continues to pursue a degree at UA in order to become a doctor here and Constance looks up to him as a huge role model.

Constance will attend the University of Arizona in the fall.

Damaris Ponce, 17

Damaris will graduate from PHS in May. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News
Damaris is the co-chair of the MECHA club this year. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News

A member of the National Honor Society, the swim team, and involved in many other extracurricular activities at Pueblo, she strives to be the difference in her family.

Attending the University of Arizona in the fall, Damaris will be the first person in her family to attend college.

Damaris said that if she could change one thing in the world it would be stereotypes, something she experienced while at Pueblo.

As a young woman, Latina and first generation college student, higher education was not in her cards if she had listened to the stereotypes.

“We end up believing that our background defines us and that we have no hope to go to college,” she said.

 Often faced with the question of why she attended Pueblo in the first place, she never understood where the negative identity of her school came from.

“My experience here showed me its not a bad school,” she said.  “So much good comes from this school.”

Damaris hopes to pursue a degree in humanities and wants to be an immigration attorney.

Daniel Motley, 18

Daniel will graduate from PHS in May. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News
Daniel is a member of Mariachi Atzlan de Pueblo High School and took first place at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference Showcase this year. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News

Accepted to Dartmouth College, Columbia University and Brown University, one would think Daniel had been working toward this moment his whole life, but the thought of applying to Ivy League schools barely crossed his mind this past winter.

“I just thought to myself, why not?” he said.  “If I didn’t try and apply I knew I would regret it.”

Several applications later Daniel was accepted to three Ivy Leagues and has committed to Brown University.

Throughout his entire academic career thus far, Daniel, also a member of NHS, has never missed one day of school.

 His owes it to his mother who has been his biggest inspiration.  She came from a poor childhood and went through a lot of difficulties but persevered by putting herself through the University of Arizona.

“She always instilled the value of education in our minds,”  he said.  “She sent us to school every single day and I developed an understanding for the importance of education.” Daniel hopes to be a role model for all students at Pueblo; he believes anyone can achieve what he did.

Daniel will pursue a degree in English and music at Brown.

Shaira Perez, 18

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Shaira is a member of the Health Occupations Students of American club at PHS. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News

Accepted to all three in-state universities, a self-proclaimed science lover, Shaira is eager to pursue a career in biomedical engineering in college.

School has always been important to Shaira, from a young age her mom always found a way to teach her new things.

Shaira’s mom would seek out neighbors and friends to help her and her siblings with their homework because she did not speak English.

“Her purpose in life is us,”  Shaira said.

Shaira, a recipient of the Wildcat Excellence Scholarship,  hopes to discover new medicine, cures and research in the medical field and will attend the University of Arizona this fall.

Anissa Gonzalez, 17

Anissa will graduate from PHS this May. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News
Anissa, a member of Senior Class Club, will graduate from PHS this spring. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News

Anissa, has been a self-motivator ever since she can remember.  As senior class president, member of the National Honor Society and the Drama Club, she relies on herself to push herself to reach her goals. 

“I always want to be the best that I can be everyday,” she said.

Throughout her schooling, she always opted to take the most rigorous courses and realized her potential her freshman year.

Anissa, inspired by her own first grade teacher, hopes to become a kindergarten school teacher after college because she wants to get kids as excited to go to school as she was growing up.

She will attend the University of Arizona in the fall.

 

Adriana Espinosa is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at adrianaespinosa@email.arizona.edu.

 

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