Rocketship Milwaukee is Going to College!
Amir Santiago, Founding Rocketship Wisconsin Rocketeer
I’m a first-generation college-bound student, and as anyone will tell you, the cards are stacked against kids like me. I feel blessed to have been accepted at multiple colleges like the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Carroll University, and I plan to go to Marquette next year.
But as I look ahead to college, I can’t help but think about my elementary school experience. I will never forget my first day of third grade at Rocketship Southside Community Prep. This was also the first day of school ever for Rocketship Wisconsin. I walked into a brand new school where so many people looked different than I did. At eight years old, I didn’t know that there was a bigger world out there – a world with people who look different than me and come from different backgrounds. I’ll admit that at first, it was hard to adjust. But I remember how intentional Rocketship teachers were about building classroom environments where everyone felt they belonged, where everyone felt equally loved and respected. Because I was taught how to navigate diverse perspectives in social relationships as a young elementary student, I was better prepared to navigate middle and high school – and I’m sure, college.
I met so many wonderful people at Rocketship. The friendships I built with my classmates and the deep, meaningful relationships I built with my teachers are the biggest highlights of my time at Rocketship. Our teachers were always so excited and happy to be there, which made our lessons super engaging. I’ll never forget Ms. Wilhelm, my humanities teacher. Ms. Wilhelm always did this storytime where she would tell us stories from her daily life so we learned more about her as a person. She was so open to us kids, treating us like equals. We loved and respected each other. Ms. Wilhelm also took the time to create a deep connection with each of us, getting to know us as people. She always knew what each of us needed.
For example, I remember when my classmate, Mariana Espinoza, pulled her glasses out in class for the first time. She was really shy and unsure about them, but Ms. Wilhelm immediately told Mariana how great she looked with the glasses to build up her confidence. That confidence helped carry Mariana through middle and high school to today where she is getting ready to go to Marquette, like me, to study nursing.
Mariana and I agree that the prospect of going to college next year is a little scary, but exciting because we both hope to be the first ones in our families to graduate from college. She wants to become a nurse to help people like her mom, who got diagnosed with cancer while we were at Rocketship. Her parents are both monolingual, so she was often the family translator, trying to ensure her mom got the care she needed at the tender age of 10 years old. Rocketship helped Mariana learn English well enough not just to help her mom as she was going through cancer treatments but also to reach the highest levels of achievement academically. Ms. Wilhelm was her favorite teacher too, and the project-based learning approach to humanities in her classroom allowed Mariana to become fluent in English in a very short period of time, even becoming an advanced English-language reader by the end of my first year. Mariana’s younger sister attends Rocketship now, too, and we both can’t wait to see what career she will pursue when she gets older.
I recently connected with two other classmates of mine, Gael Muñoz and Diego Montemayor. Gael will go to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh next year to study criminal justice. Diego is another first-generation freshman like me and is heading to Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois next year to study marketing and sports management. He always talks about how warm and welcoming Rocketship was for him and that he loved switching classrooms as the older kids do in middle school. He felt like he was able to get more care and attention from his team of teachers because each Rocketship teacher specializes in a specific subject area. And we all remember how we always encouraged each other to do well academically, which made us love going to school.
As you can see, Rocketship continues to impact me and my classmates to this day. My conversations with my friends reminded me of all the ways that Rocketship really demonstrated to us the importance of college and how getting your bachelor’s degree can be life-changing. I feel prepared for college because of my experience at Rocketship. I know that just like at Rocketship, in college I’ll once again be in an extremely diverse environment, going to class with people from all different walks of life. I know that I’m prepared to tackle this next challenge in my academic career because of the empathy and skills I learned as a little one at Rocketship. And I know I am not alone as I enter the next chapter of my life.
Gael Muñoz (left) and Diego Montemayor (right) ten years ago
Gael Muñoz, present
Published on May 19, 2023