2 first-generation teens journey from South LA to the Ivy League


Every day as Alvaro Quintero walked the quarter mile between his home and Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School, he passed the locations of six killings. The neighborhood in which he lived in South LA is poor—72 percent of families earn less than $40,000 a year, 74 percent of adults do not have a high school diploma, and 45 percent are foreign born. Neither of Alvaro’s parents finished high school, and both his older siblings dropped out of school in the ninth grade. But despite these odds, Alvaro is now a freshman at Harvard University.

Alvaro and Jose Rodriguez, a friend from high school who is now a freshman at Yale University, shared their inspirational journeys during a session at SXSWedu. Both counted themselves lucky to have attended Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School, a Green Dot Public School focused on preparing students for college, leadership, and life.

Although Jose’s parents did not have the opportunity to graduate from high school, they always expected him to attend college, and he credited his school counselors and teachers for helping him get into Yale. He recalled his middle school counselor telling him about the charter high school and convincing him to apply. Once he was accepted to Ánimo Pat Brown, Jose’s counselors met with him regularly to make sure he was on the right path to get into a good college.

The teachers at Ánimo Pat Brown had high expectations for students. Jose remembered having writing assignments in every class, which prepared him for the college application process and his classes at Yale.

Alvaro noted that his teachers went out of their way to help him. He spoke fondly of his high school chemistry teacher who stayed after class to help him study for his SAT Subject Test. Teacher support and encouragement were very important to Alvaro. “If just one person says ‘I believe in you,’ it makes a huge difference,” he explained.

Alvaro remembered meeting with almost all of his high school teachers during their office hours, a practice he is continuing at Harvard. He hypothesized that many Harvard students are embarrassed to ask professors for help, but he is used to doing so and it has been very beneficial

Alvaro’s and Jose’s stories remind us that with support, first-generation college students can achieve the American dream. For more inspirational stories about first-generation college students, read about Hasher Nisar’s, Stanley Tanis’s and Alex Ngure’s journeys.