Christopher Santiago’s favorite memory from The Preuss School UC San Diego is the annual Shakespeare Festival. The Yale-bound senior always looked forward to watching classmates perform unexpected twists of the author’s most famous writings. Half of the day would be dedicated to enjoying the show, being outdoors and relaxing. “To be quite honest the one thing that killed it was the hot sun just sitting on all of us, but this past year in quarantine has left me wishing the sun would hit me that hard again.”
The Preuss School’s Class of 2021 spent their entire senior year learning remotely. Despite the challenges of missing friends, digital fatigue and transitioning events and clubs online, scholars sustained their academic excellence. Among 108 seniors, 96% were accepted to at least one four-year college or university, while a record 52 were accepted to the University of California San Diego. The entire cohort will be the first in their family to graduate from college.
Graduates will be celebrated at an in-person Commencement ceremony happening at 4 p.m. on June 17 at Manchester Field on The Preuss School campus. Each graduate will be able to invite two guests to attend; the event will also be livestreamed for those who would like to take part remotely. The event will feature a pre-recorded keynote address by California Secretary of State, Dr. Shirley Weber.
A transformational pathway to college
From their first day at The Preuss School, scholars are affirmed and taught to believe that they can achieve in higher education and realize a successful career. The charter middle and high school enrolls a diverse low-income student population from over 40 neighborhoods in San Diego County, with the majority from south of Interstate 8.
This spring, The Preuss School was named the #1 high school in San Diego by U.S. News and World Report in their 2021 Best High Schools report. The ranking also placed The Preuss School #6 in California among nearly 3,000 schools.
The recognition comes from a dedication to preparing scholars to succeed in college and career through a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum that is designed to exceed University of California admission requirements. Students are in school longer each day and for 18 more days a year than the typical student in California, which adds up to almost an entire extra academic year over the course of their middle and high school careers. In addition, each student enrolls in an advisory class (University Prep) with mentorship from the same faculty member from grade 6 through 12.
“The Preuss School offers a transformational pathway to college for local students from underserved communities,” said Executive Director Helen V. Griffith. “We are so proud of our Class of 2021 seniors who, in the midst of a global pandemic and year of remote learning, were able to achieve exemplary college acceptance rates. Their special talents, resilience, and drive will take them far.”
Stories from The Preuss School Class of 2021
Maria Aguirre Ambario
Maria Aguirre Ambario is the Class of 2021 Valedictorian and will deliver a speech to her peers at Commencement. She will attend Princeton University in the fall to study mathematics, with the ultimate goal of attaining a career where she can give back to others through research, politics or education.
“The Preuss School played a major role in helping me prepare for college and my future,” said Aguirre Ambario. “I am grateful to Preuss for the community and family it is. The close-knit supportive environment has helped me become the person I am today.”
This fall, Carlos Bahena will attend Yale University where he will explore different fields, beginning with environmental engineering. Though still deciding on a career path, he is very interested in learning more about the field of law. Bahena is The Preuss School Class of 2021 Salutatorian.
“The Preuss School helped prepare me for college by teaching me how to take advantage of available resources,” explained Bahena. “Being a first-generation, low-income student, Preuss has taught me how to look for these resources and later use them to help me succeed in life.”
Alexis Barajas fell in love with the idea of psychology eight years ago when her little brother was born. When he was referred to a speech and physical therapist, Barajas would join him at his appointments, which inspired her to research occupations involved in child psychology. She will attend UC San Diego in the fall to study psychology with a specialization in cognitive psychology. Beyond her undergraduate degree, Barajas plans to work as a school psychologist, earn a doctoral degree and become a clinical psychologist to serve hospitalized children.
“The Preuss School helped me prepare for college by never giving up on me,” said Barajas. “There were a lot of times where I felt pretty down due to family and personal issues, but my teachers were always willing to sit down with me and talk about what was going on and were very understanding. But most of all, they made me feel like someone was actually looking out for me.”
She knew since 8th grade that college was attainable. And this fall, Sarron Delke will achieve her vision by attending San Diego State University to study kinesiology. Her goal is to either become a physical therapist to help those who have suffered from strokes or become a registered nurse. What Delke valued the most from attending The Preuss School is the way extracurricular activities and internships are integrated into the curriculum. In addition, she felt very supported during remote learning by having online tutoring sessions and individual meetings to discuss questions about college.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, every staff member at The Preuss School trusts and believes in you and the future you decide on,” said Delke. “I strongly believe that if I went to any other high school, I wouldn’t be as prepared as I am right now. Preuss not only helped me get prepared for college, they helped me figure out what I wanted to be after college.”
Vyvy Nguyen looks forward to making new friends, participating in study abroad and being a part of student organizations when she enrolls at UCLA in the fall. She will major in biology, which is the first step in her plan to attend medical school and become an OB-GYN doctor who specializes in women’s health. Nguyen’s vision is to empower and support women throughout their pregnancies.
“Preuss has provided me with many opportunities, classes, programs and support which helped me understand what to expect in college and what I should do in college in order to be successful in the real world,” said Nguyen. “Although I am scared to leave Preuss and all the amazing people I met, I am ready to move onto my next chapter in life, further my education, meet new people, make people proud, and be one step closer toward achieving my dreams.”
Christopher Santiago is excited to begin a new chapter, which may involve going to space. This fall, he will move to Connecticut to attend Yale University with a full scholarship. He will study astrophysics with a goal of pursuing a career as an astrophysicist and dreams of becoming an astronaut. Santiago credits The Preuss School’s rigorous learning environment for preparing him for college.
“Preuss definitely set me up for success; it taught me the value of routine, the need for rigor, and overall, the need to be proud,” said Santiago. “It had been seven long years and it just does not seem real to be ending it all within a few months. I am excited to start a new chapter, and nervous to move across the country.”