Students Believe, "Yes We Can," at Voices College-Bound Language Academies

June 1, 2016

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The mission of Voices College-Bound Language Academies is clear. Since it opened its first and flagship school in 2007 - Voices Franklin McKinley in San Jose - Voices has been serving the community and preparing kindergarten through eighth grade students for the challenges of higher education through dual-language learning. For Voices, California's future is directly tied to the educational success of today's Latino youth. Every day, Voices prepares students with world-class teaching that honors and further develops their cultural heritage through its dual-immersion language program. Voices believes that tapping into the multicultural strengths of our communities ensure that California, and the nation, are better and stronger.

Voices' three schools serve students in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade who are typically faced with a high achievement gap. Through hard work and a commitment to the Voices values, they assure that all graduating students will possess the knowledge, skills and confidence to succeed in any career path they choose to pursue in life by mastering academic standards and subject matter.

Yes We Can
Students at Voices have a "Si Se Puede" (Yes we can!) attitude, and are valuable contributors to their education and community. "Everything we do is designed around our core values," said Marie Moore, Community Engagement Strategist.

The first value is taken from the Mayan phrase, "In Lak'ech," which translates to "I am you, you are me." The idea behind this is everyone at Voices is part of a family. From students to teachers to parents, they act with unity. They also believe students are at the forefront of Voices, and are the ones to motivate, inspire and guide. Every decision made at the school is done with the students' well-being and achievement in mind.

Finally, shared leadership is an important factor in Voices' guiding values. The school operates on the belief that everyone has something valuable to contribute to the Voices school community. Whether the person is a first-year teacher, assistant teacher, principal or parent, Voices believes in shared knowledge and accountability.

These values have motivated students to achieve and empowered them to have their own "voice" heard. Voices saw its first group of graduating eighth graders in 2015. Those students are now in high school taking Advancement Placement classes, have excellent GPAs, and are engaged in leadership positions.

Mireya Valencia is one such student. She was a founding Voices student who is now a high school freshman with a 4.0 grade point average. "Voices helped me understand what it means to be in a community," said Valencia. "They taught me a lot of values and characteristics that are now part of me. Wherever I go, I can use them."

The Beginning of the Voices Movement
Voices began as a way to change the norm. The school was founded by Frances Teso, the current CEO of Voices, who was herself born and raised in San Jose and very much identifies with her students.

"I see myself in the kids we serve in our schools," said Teso. "If there was a Voices [when I was a kid], I would have been the target student. I went through public school in my neighborhood school. By the time I graduated from high school, very few of my friends and classmates graduated, and less went to college or made it through college."

Teso realizes she could have very easily become a dropout statistic. "I've been successful in spite of my education, not because of it. It's unacceptable, and I wanted to make a difference in my corner of the world."

She started Voices as one of the first charter schools in San Jose, and has crafted it into a school that has high expectations and believes in every student. She strongly believes that if parents want their child to attend a 4-year college, it starts in kindergarten.

"We think about what classes they need to take in high school and begin that preparation process early to get them to college," said Teso. And Voices never gives up on its students. "It's not about some kids can and some can't. We challenge them and hold their hand and make sure they're successful."

Voices has achieved much success over its tenure. This success has resulted in two new schools - Morgan Hill and Mount Pleasant - opening to serve additional students in the South Bay community. Teso believes that their excellent test results and success is not due to a magic bullet solution, but a comprehensive approach that defines learning at Voices.

"It's a comprehensive, well thought-out view of everything and how kids experience education, from transitional kindergarten through eighth grade," said Teso. "That's why students do so well."