10 questions with … Victor Montanez

Victor Montanez, a former Crusader, is a program specialist for the high school and postsecondary teams. He graduated from Mount Pleasant High School in 2010 and earned Bachelor of Science in sociology with a concentration in criminal justice and a minor in psychology from the University of Rhode Island in 2015. He first joined the Crusade as an advisor, serving at Esek Hopkins Middle School and Times2 Academy.

1. What was your favorite program as a Crusader? 
CAAP, because you got to meet so many other Crusaders and learn to work apart as a team. All the trips that we took were also so much fun! And after-school Cru Club; my high school advisor Dwayne is incredible!

2. What’s the last great TV show or movie you watched? 
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”

3. What photo do you have on your phone screen background? 
My niece and nephew! 

4. What’s your dream travel destination? 
Bolivia or Costa Rica 

5. If you could live anywhere else, where would it be? 
Anywhere on the beach, or anywhere with an amazing view.

6. What’s your favorite thing to cook or eat? 

To eat: Chicken wings are my favorite. Any flavor! To cook: Pastelón, a classic Puerto Rican dish.

7. What’s your favorite holiday and how do you celebrate? 
Tie between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Love spending holidays with family eating great food.

8. Are you a morning person or a night owl? 
Night owl for sure! 

9. What is the best part of your job? \
All the amazing people I work with and being able to service our students to achieve their goals! 

10 What’s your life motto or favorite saying? 
Don’t count the days, make the days count.

Sekou Madave Jr. ’21 will attend College of the Holy Cross

My name is Sekou Madave Jr., and I was born in Buduburam refugee camp just 44 kilometers from Accra, in Ghana, on Oct. 10, 2001. Around the age of 5, my family moved to Liberia, where I lived until 2012 when I immigrated to the United States of America. I’ve lived in Rhode Island with my father, stepmother, two stepsisters, and stepbrothers for the past nine years.  

When I first moved to the United States, the foreignness of my surroundings was strange and, at times, suffocating. The smell, taste, food, and language were otherworldly and too much for my 11-year-old self to absorb. It was a huge shock when I first saw snowfall out of the sky; where I lived in Liberia, it never snowed. My family’s face was new; it was the first time I’d seen my father. He moved to the U.S. when my biological mother was pregnant with me. At school, I struggled to keep up with my peers. I read below my grade level.  

The struggles to adjust to my new worlds follow me in middle school. But this time, the strife became more personal than academic. In sixth grade, I remember a classmate burst into laughter during my presentation. Once he caught his breath, he asked me to speak “African” again. This humiliating and traumatic incident was not isolated, and it took a severe toll on me. For most of my middle school years, I struggled to express myself and closed off from my peers. When the bell signaled dismissal, instead of joining my classmates in after-school activities, I rushed to get home as quickly as possible.  

Even though there was some adversity that I had to endure, my middle school years were not all bad because I joined the Onward We Learn of Rhode Island. Because I did not do many after-school activities, the Onward We Learn helped make up for that. The Saturday Cru Club, college visits, and field trips were all events I looked forward to because of the opportunity to meet different students from diverse backgrounds. Up to that point, the only places I’d been were school and back home. Going to these various places and experiencing different things through the Onward We Learn opened my viewpoint to the world outside of my confinements.  

The Onward We Learn has, without a doubt, played an essential role in my life. Since coming to the U.S., I’ve created lifelong bonds with fellow Crusaders and advisors. This year, I will be undertaking another critical transition in my life, primarily due to the Onward We Learn and advisors. They helped with college applications and financial aid documents. The hands-on help that I received from the advisor was crucial in helping me get into some of my dream schools. As a result, I will be attending the College of the Holy Cross in the fall of 2021, studying psychology. 

Why did you decide to join the Onward We Learn Honorific Program? 

I joined the Onward We Learn in sixth grade and, even though I was years away from applying to college, I was still thinking it and I was to get as much information about the college process and life beyond college and the Onward We Learn was invaluable.  

Please share a memorable moment you have in the Honorific Program. 

The most memorable part of the Honorific program was when we first started working on our college essay. In the beginning, my essay was all over the place, and to see the growth from the first draft to the one I submitted to the colleges was one of the proudest moments during this college process. Also, shout out to Luc Allio. 

What role did CoAgena play in your success? 

Ana has played an enormous role not only in my success but my life. She goes above and beyond for what an advisor should do; she is concerned about me and other Crusaders’ well-being, especially during COVID-19. Without the assistance of Ana, I would not be in my dream college. (And I do mean this literally. When I could not pay the deposit fee, she found a way). Also, shout out to Ashley. 

What are you most looking forward to in your first year of college?

 I am looking forward to meeting in person some of the first-year students I met online. 

What challenges are you anticipating in the years ahead? 

How I would adjust living away from home. 

What words of advice do you have for the next group of Honorific seniors (Class of 2022)? 

Everyone in the Honorific Program wants you to success, so do not be afraid to ask for help. 

Charon Martinez ’21 is heading to Boston University

Hi! My name is Charon Martinez and I use pronouns she/her/hers. I am proud to be a first-generation, Hispanic/Latinx student attending Boston University in January 2022. I would describe myself as a resilient, intrinsically motivated, and organized leader. These traits are what allowed me to persevere in life and school. I am graduating as a member of the Summa Cum Laude Society and I am in the top 8% of my class. Beyond academics, I am very passionate about staying connected with my culture, and for 13 years I’ve done so through folkloric dance. Additionally, I am a social justice advocate and plan to bring my voice onto campus to bring about change. During my time in college I would like to immerse myself in different cultures and expand my horizons by traveling abroad. First place on my list: London, as it is part of the CGS program at BU. 

Why did you decide to join the Onward We Learn Honorific Program?

I decided to join the Honorific team because I did not have anyone to help me in the college process, as I am a first-generation student. Also, I figured that going to the boot camps would help me be able to help me siblings in their process when their time comes. 

Please share a memorable moment you have in the Honorific Program.

A memorable moment would have to be when we were playing [a game similar to] “Jeopardy!” about everything we learned in the boot camp. This was a standout moment for me because not only did I win, I knew I was prepared to begin the college process. 

What role did College Admissions Coach Ana Almeida play in your success? 

Ana introduced me to all the terminology involved in the college process and set me with several documents that kept me organized when I started applying. Aside from the group meetings, she has always been there when I had a question or needed some advice and always made time for me. 

What are you most looking forward to in your first year of college?

I’m looking forward to change, a breath of fresh air, and the start of living life to the fullest. 

What challenges are you anticipating in the years ahead?

As Boston University is a large institution, I anticipate struggling with the campus and that sense of community. I plan to connect with people on my floor and also join clubs that speak to me and my values. I also think that mastering transportation won’t be easy as the train is the most popular method. 

What words of advice do you have for the next group of Honorific seniors (Class of 2022)?

JUST DO IT. I am referring to the summer boot camp. I know it’s summer and you probably don’t want to be on Zoom that early but I promise you it’s beyond worth it. During my Honorific boot camp I was also managing an internship and a math course, so I know what it’s like to have a full schedule. Looking back at it, starting the college process at such an early stage really set me up for success. Lastly, shoot for the stars. Don’t be afraid to apply to your dream schools; you can do it! 

Alumni spotlight: Catherine Garcia

I immigrated to Providence from the Dominican Republic at the age of 2. My parents wanted a better future for my siblings and me. They were very excited when they heard about the Onward We Learn at my elementary school and immediately signed me up when I was in third grade. As a third grader, I had no idea what it meant to be a Crusader. I was just very excited about the idea of attending fun programs during the summer and making new friends. As I got older and attended many of the college tours hosted by the Onward We Learn, I began to feel excited about the idea of attending college.  

With the help of the Onward We Learn, I went on to complete my bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences, cell and molecular biology, and psychology at the University of Rhode Island in 2016. Fast forward to today and I am about to graduate from medical school at Brown University and become a neurosurgery resident at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles! 

It wasn’t just the educational workshops/resources, college tours, or even the financial support the Crusade provided me during my time at URI that made the biggest impact, but it was their advisors.  

I remember chatting with my URI/Crusade advisor, Kristina Moyet, about applying early to Brown medical school during my sophomore year. She encouraged me to apply, kindly wrote me a letter of recommendation, and edited my personal statement. Having adults who believe that you can go to college (and even medical school!) and guide you through the process was a positive and life-changing experience.  I always knew that aside from my family, I had my advisors rooting for me as I strived to reach my academic goals.  

Onward We Learn provided me with positive academic role models, and for that I am eternally grateful. Therefore, my biggest advice to all the students currently in the Onward We Learn is to lean on your advisors. They want you to succeed in life and are willing to help you to the best of their abilities.  

Postsecondary student spotlight: Wila Matos

My name is Wila Matos. I am a Onward We Learnr and will be graduating this May from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in Africana studies. 

I grew up in an Afro-Latinx household in Providence, Rhode Island. My parents migrated to the U.S. for a better chance at life; however, like many, they faced many obstacles in their path to achieve the American dream. From an early age, I was able to observe how the power of language and access to opportunities influences the success of individuals in this country. Despite that, it never occurred to me that these life lessons would direct me on the path that I’m on now. 

When I reflect on the start of my career journey three places come to mind: The Met High School, the Onward We Learn, and Youth in Action (YIA). I graduated from the Met in 2015 and participated in the Onward We Learn and YIA throughout my high school career. Each place supported me with amazing mentors, encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and provided me with different opportunities to be on college campuses and speak with college students. It really gave me the confidence to pursue higher education and discover what else the world had to offer. I remember the Onward We Learn had an opportunity to spend the night at the University of Rhode Island and this was the selling point for me to attend. The Onward We Learn didn’t just give me opportunities to attend college but allowed me to dream endlessly and envision myself actually being there.  

My college experience was not a straight path. Being the first in your family to go to college can be an exciting and terrifying experience because you are figuring everything out on your own. I had a hard time adjusting to college the first couple of years and made many mistakes along the way. Eventually, I made the hard decision to take a year off from school. During this time, I worked for The Met and the Onward We Learn CAAP program, which was an opportunity to continue developing my deep passion for education and helping my community. Taking a year off from school gave me the chance to reflect on what I really wanted.  

When I returned, I was determined to participate in a study abroad program in Cabo Verde. I had an incredible time and learned so much about Cape Verdean culture, history, and politics. The connection between Rhode Island and Cabo Verde allowed me to understand members of my community a lot better. I wanted to find more opportunities to explore different countries and learn languages. I applied to Fulbright for these reasons but discovered that I had similar interests and values to the program. I applied for an English Teaching Assistantship position in Brazil to work with college students who would later become English teachers. I am very proud and excited to have won because I want to learn from others around the world and bring it back to the U.S. to show others what I have learned.   

Currently, I live abroad in Cabo Verde teaching English in Praia to continue learning Portuguese and Creole. It has been an incredible journey. I never thought I’d graduate with a Fulbright to teach English in Brazil.  

10 questions with … Carmen Vazquez

Carmen Vazquez

Carmen Vazquez, a Onward We Learn alumna, is one of three high school advisors who joined the Onward We Learn this fall. She is a graduate of the Met School and Rhode Island College, where she received her bachelor’s degree in youth development and is the advisor at Cranston High School East.

1. What was your favorite program as a Onward We Learnr?

My favorite program as a Onward We Learnr was Life Skills Cru Club!

2. What made you decide to join the Onward We Learn after you graduated?

I decided to join the Onward We Learn because I have a passion for working with young people. Being able to mentor and guide youth in a direction toward success, self-advocacy and positivity is my ultimate goal.

3. What has been the most challenging part about starting a new job in the middle of a pandemic?

The most challenging part is not being to have face-to-face social interaction with my students or colleagues.

4. What is your favorite part of the job so far?

My favorite part of the job is the community I am a part of.  I am surrounded by intelligent, driven, and compassionate colleagues. Also, being able to help and guide my students is absolutely rewarding. 

5. Do you have any hobbies?

I enjoy outdoor adventure, hiking and being crafty.

6. What was your favorite class in college?

My favorite class in college was “Introduction to Youth Development.” In this class, I learned the importance of the phrase “let those who live that life lead you.” In other words, young people come from all sorts of backgrounds; they are the experts of their life experience. We can learn from them by taking a step back and letting them educate us.

7. When we can travel again, what’s your dream destination?

My dream destination to travel to would be Egypt. It’s on my bucket list.

8. What’s your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Nothing beats a delicious home-cooked meal and a moment to share memories and express gratitude with loved ones.

9. What two or three famous or inspirational people would you love to meet for coffee?

This is hard. Hmm. I would say Alicia Keys, Malcolm X and President Obama.

10. What’s your life motto or favorite saying?

“We may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated,” by Maya Angelou is one of my favorite sayings. This quote was the introduction to my college essay! I consider myself a resilient woman of color. Life is unpredictable and, at times, challenging. However, despite the hardships, we must always continue to push forward.

10 questions with … Brian Estrada

Brian Estrada

Get to know a little more about middle school advisor Brian Estrada, a former Crusader who graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a bachelor’s degree in business information systems analysis and a concentration in graphic design. Our students know him as Mr. Brian. Learn a little more about this former Crusader.

1. What music is your usual soundtrack?

My musical soundtrack consists of a vast variety of genres, from classical music to Kanye West, gospel albums to celebrity interviews and sports talk. As long as there is something keeping me interested, I’ll be listening.

2. What is the best part of your job?

The most rewarding part of being an advisor is hands down being with the Crusaders. Being able to interact, relate and learn at the same time is the ultimate reward.

3. What is the last thing you read for fun?

I really enjoy reading; some know my catch phrase, which is, “Be safe and read a book.” I am currently reading a couple leadership books, “Didn’t See it Coming” by Carey Nieuwhof and also “Jesus for President” by Shane Claiborne.

4. What’s your dream travel destination?

My dream travel destination is 100% Cuba. I love the food, history, the culture and art. It’s like being able to go back in time without the time machine.

5. What is one thing most people might not know about you?

Some people might know, but I feel like many might not know that I am a minister and that I have three young boys, Jared, Noah and Seth.

6. What two or three people would you love to meet for coffee?

I would love to have coffee with Jay Leno, who is my favorite comedian and best late-night host of all time. I would also enjoy a cup of coffee with Mr. Kanye West. I just feel like we have a lot to talk about; I am confident that we will hit it off. And last I would enjoy a cup of coffee with one of my preferred ministers Joseph Prince. I just want to pick his brain. There are definitely more people I’d like to have coffee with and lots of coffee for me to try.

7. What is the best advice someone ever gave you?

I am blessed enough to be surrounded with lots of great inspirational people, but one of the best pieces of advice I heard was at my high school commencement, when the speaker literally just said his name and said, “Never forget where you come from” and walked off. That has been instrumental in not getting too full of myself, staying humble and hungry for more.

8. What qualities make you good at your work?

I feel as if the energy, charisma and creativity I bring allow me to be good at my job.

9. What is your favorite food or meal?

Soup. Now, I love food. I love Peruvian food, which is hands down my favorite, but you can never go wrong with soup! Nice warm, relaxing, cloud nine soup.

10. What’s your life motto or favorite saying?

I have a whole bunch of those. But be assured when someone asks me how I’m doing you’ll hear me saying, “I’m doing soo good, soo great. Oh, my gosh, let me tell you, soo good.” I always try and bring a positive vibe anywhere I go.

Bryant Estrada adapts to new way of teaching

Bryant Estrada

Bryant Estrada compares the early days of the pandemic to the stages of grief. “You start off with denial, and I know for me and for our kids, there was that sense of denial. Like OK, we’re starting our vacation a little earlier than usual, but we’ll be back soon.”

He’s referring to his 10th– to 12th-grade students at Blackstone Academy Charter School in Pawtucket, where he teaches mathematics. “We started doing asynchronous teaching, but after about a month and a half, I was like this is actually a real thing. I was in denial not just about teaching, but also socially in general.”

He wasn’t satisfied with the asynchronous format. “It’s totally the opposite of what my pedagogy looks like. It wasn’t me teaching; it was me assigning videos and work.” Someone else noticed, too. “My dad has always pushed me to do my best. He told me, ‘That’s not the way to teach; that’s not the way you do it.’ Kind of like, ‘I expect more from you. We expect the most of you so why are you not doing it?’”

Things got much better for him when he started teaching live classes this spring, but he had to make some policy changes, especially when it came to grading and flexibility. “I know before I used to teach with equity in mind and I need to teach even more with equity in mind. I’m not going to have this semester be the one that sinks them.”

His school is full distance learning this fall but students can be in the building at least twice a week. “It’s one of our ways to best combat the equity issue and serve the learners with the most needs – intellectually, emotionally or needing a separate space,” he said.

Estrada is in a classroom by himself, with a laptop and camera and a Chromebook connected to a TV monitor so he can see his students’ faces. He’s not teaching with slides; he’s actually solving problems on the board with them.

“The part of the job that brings me the most joy is being in the classroom and it hurts that I can’t do my job the way I want to do my job. The more I think about it, I get emotional because I miss my babies,” he said. “I tell them that at the beginning and end of each class. It’s hard; my practice when I come to teaching is very much strong on the aspect of mentoring, relationship-building and full of love.”

Assessing students’ understanding is challenging via distance learning. “Testing right now is weird for all of us,” he said. “A lot of teachers probably say, ‘What if my kids cheat?’ Integrity is a thing for me. If you ruin that, it’s you. That’s your diploma that you don’t deserve. I say if you get to the point where you reach a problem and you feel that you need to cheat, don’t do that problem. Get in touch and we’ll work through a similar problem together.”

He also implemented a feedback forum survey they receive after a test, asking whether they liked the format and had enough time. “What could I have done better to prepare you. What you could have done better to prepare? What do we need to go over a bit more? Students’ feedback is absolutely necessary if we want any positive shift during this time,” he said.

The Central Falls High School and Brown University graduate said the reasons urban communities are hardest hit are not because of the demographics, but how the communities are set up. He compared Burrillville, with about 17,000 residents spread over 57 square miles, to Central Falls, with nearly 20,000 residents in 1 square mile. “Central Falls has multigenerational households. If one person is affected, so are seven more people. You’re not going to see that in Burrillville, where houses are more separated.”

Students in urban communities face compounding variables that make the equity situation even worse, he said. “A student might not be submitting work not because they don’t care, but maybe they’re taking care of siblings because mom is working. We need to be understanding of those things and be a lot more lenient about things, whether that means giving a student an extra week to complete a basic assignment or tracking down a student who stopped attending classes to find out what’s happening.”

Estrada said he would tell aspiring teachers to stay optimistic that things will be better soon. “I hope that their true ability and potential to teach is fully realized and their love for teaching is reaffirmed. You’re going into teaching because you know you’re made for it. Keep thinking that you’re made for it.”

Jordan Day navigates changing pandemic in role with city of Providence

Jordan Day

The week of March 9, Jordan Day was traveling to a policy roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C., to talk about connecting children to nature. “And within two days, we decided to close facilities,” she said.

Day, senior deputy chief operating officer for the city of Providence, turned to her calendar to jog her memory of that week before the city closed its buildings on March 13. Before that, she was routinely in five or six in-person meetings a day in her role overseeing and supporting the execution of capital projects such as road improvements, playground upgrades, school renovations and more.

“Things are much different now as we continue to take precautions to protect our staff and residents. Depending on the day of the week, I am working remotely now while also coming into the office some days of the week with a limited pool of colleagues,” she said. “We are only conducting digital meetings or conference calls and we are always considering how the pandemic impacts the work, even if it’s not directly related to the subject at hand.”

Recalling the early days of the pandemic, she said all city departments had to pivot to respond to the new guidance. For example, the city’s licensing team had to contact up to 80 entertainment license applicants to tell them they would not be issued a license.

”We’ve had to get creative to ensure that our residents were still being served but that they didn’t have to put themselves at risk to get those services,” she said. “This included opening up additional test sites in the city to providing meal delivery services for homebound residents.”

As the city launches construction projects during this time, it must balance construction with safety. “Our partners in these projects are thorough and take additional precautions but you don’t know when you’ll receive a notice saying work at a job site must be suspended because someone at the job site or for the company has tested positive” she said. “We want to ensure that all precautions are taken but we now need to factor this into project timelines and be more conservative in outlining our completion dates.”

She said they also must plan for staff quarantining and how that affects city services. Protocols ensure team members are in specific groups to limit contact with one another. “This also means that we have created safety measures so that residents can still get access to in-person services. In all of our public-facing departments, we’ve installed plexiglass barriers to ensure that staff and residents can safely conduct business,” she said.

The pandemic has highlighted many of the inequities we knew existed in urban areas and communities of color. Day said the team immediately focused on engaging a variety of groups. “We’ve brought together stakeholders from the faith community, our African American Ambassadors Group, and the Latino Ambassadors group. Utilizing their feedback and getting a better understanding of the issues that they were facing helped up determine our response,” she said.

The city launched ADA accessible test sites that had food available, in addition to the meal program at city recreation centers and Providence Schools.

“As we continue to navigate the impacts that this pandemic will have on the city, we continue to look at ways to provide economic relief to our community through different forms. We have been able to provide funds through the Providence Business Loan Fund, artist relief fund and $50,000 to AMORE to support the undocumented community here in Providence. All of these interventions were done and intended to be low-barrier for residents and community members to access.”

Day, a graduate of Classical High School and Rhode Island College, encourages everyone to explore opportunities in municipal government, in part because of the range of areas of focus.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work in constituent services, do policy work and now managing capital projects. I’ve had the opportunity to explore many different interest areas and learn more about what areas I want to focus on.”

Crusader accepted to 14 colleges

One night, Carla Cabrera was home and feeling a little stressed out about applying to college – as many high school seniors do at some point in the process.

“So I stayed up until like midnight and applied to 20 schools,” she said. “I wanted to see how many schools I would get into.” The answer was 14. “I just started getting a lot of acceptances out of nowhere.”

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