Danielle Mondragon was one of the first students at KIPP Aspire Academy in 2004, and now she is a graduate of Texas Christian University. Danielle made the decision to join Teach For America, come back to her hometown, and teach at KIPP Aspire Academy. She will be the first KIPP San Antonio alumni teacher, and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome her back to our Team & Family. We had the opportunity to chat with Danielle about her educational journey, decision to return to San Antonio, and hopes for the future.
What originally brought you to KIPP Aspire Academy?
Believe it or not, it was a handwritten letter that brought me to KIPP Aspire Academy. One of my best friends from elementary explained what KIPP was and sent along a pamphlet with more information. My parents researched more about KIPP and thought it would be a great opportunity. I was really excited for the first day of school until it was time to walk through the doors at Aspire. I don’t like change, so when my mom pulled up to Aspire, I didn’t want to get out the car. As time progressed and I got more and more comfortable, I realized that I loved it! I always think about where I’d be if I chose to not get out of my mom’s car that day.
How did KIPP Aspire help shape your educational path?
KIPP Aspire Academy rewrote my story. The teachers constantly held a high bar and showed me that college was possible. Roy Feliciano was especially significant to my successes as he constantly showed me that the only way was up. While in my last year at KIPP Aspire, Roy brought up the idea of attending a boarding school. I didn’t know what a boarding school was, but I trusted him. He helped me throughout the entire process, from the applications to the interview prep, and even took on the challenge of convincing my parents to let their youngest child live across the country for 4 years. Because of their support, I was able to attend a private, prestigious boarding school–something that is extremely rare for a student like myself. I saw the drastic difference between the students at KIPP versus the students at my high school. At my high school, students saw the route to college as a simple one, whereas KIPP students knew that you had to work harder, set expectations higher, and truly excel to earn your seat in that college classroom. KIPP instilled great work ethic in me and gave me the tools necessary to become successful in high school and in college.
As you were weighing out your college options, what made you choose TCU?
It’s no secret, paying for college is difficult. As a first-generation college student, there was so much that my family and I didn’t understand about the financial aid process. Knowing that most of the students at my high school had drastically different financial situations than myself, I didn’t feel comfortable going to my counselors for support. Additionally, my high school didn’t provide support in Spanish for my family. Thankfully, KIPP Through College (KTC) was there. My mom visited KIPP every other week to makesure everything was in line for me to go to college. Whatever questions she had, KTC was able to help by making phone calls, doing the math, and connecting her to the right people. After I finished weighing my options, sifting through my acceptances, and chatting with my family and KTC, it just made sense to go to TCU. It was financially attainable and I was going to get an exceptional education. I’m so proud to have graduated from such an amazing university and I will always BLEED PURPLE!
What makes you want to teach? More specifically, what makes you want to teach in San Antonio?
It wasn’t until my junior year that I started to become interested in teaching as a future career. It was too late to change my major, so I researched other routes to the classroom. Joining Teach For America was the most logical next step–it was an opportunity to get more training and support while also positioning me to impact students like myself. I reflected back on my college career and realized how much my education changed my life. I knew that I had to go back to San Antonio, back to my community. It was a place that I felt connected to, and I knew that I could make an impact on students.
That’s a lot of pressure, yeah? Education has been really transformational for you, and now you’re helping shape the future KIPP Aspire students. What’s top of mind as you enter the classroom?
When I was younger, I saw college as a space reserved for upper class, white citizens. I want to show my students that college is possible. It is important that they see people who look like them graduating and succeeding. I’m also excited about fostering a connection with my students’ families. My mom was constantly at KIPP, trying to help me as much as possible with my education. I understand how important parents can be in transforming their child’s educational journey, and I am eager to work with parents to support their children. Lastly, I want to show my students that their voices matter. Throughout my education, it was rare that I was taught about role models, authors, leaders, or activists that reflected my background. I was always learning about others, but couldn’t find elements of my personal identity in the work. I want to show my students that people like them can change the world.