STRIVE Prep – Excel Senior Isai Lozano has his entire future in front of him. The member of the college class of 2021 raised his voice at last week’s STRIVE for College Annual Breakfast and shared isai-lozanothe hardships and successes he’s faced on his own journey to STRIVE for College. Read Isai’s speech and join in on the celebration of his successes below!

Good morning, My name is Isai Lozano. I am 17 years old, a senior at STRIVE Prep – Excel and a soon to be first-generation college student. I have been with STRIVE since middle school, back when STRIVE was still called West Denver Prep.

The 5th grade me wanted to go to Lake Middle School. Lucky for me however, (although it may have not felt lucky for me at the time) I had received a letter from West Denver Prep – promising an education that would rival that of any other public school.

My parents liked that they were given a choice as to where I could go, rather than just having one pre-determined option, especially due to our financial situation, which was bad at the time.

After an information session and a home visit from the vice principal, I was dismayed to learn that not only did I have to wear a uniform, but that it had to be an ugly maroon polo. So while I reluctantly entered on that first day of school, it was sort of a humbling experience to see that all of my peers were wearing that same ugly maroon, collared shirt.

Those three years of middle school really showed me that I was capable of exceeding my own expectations and they prepared me for high school. It was the first time that I was really challenged by homework and realized that I needed stay after school for extra help and support. And it was also the first time I started thinking about the idea of going to college.
The summer before my sophomore year, my world was rocked. Our lease was up and with the ever growing housing market here in Denver, our landlord was demanding a price that – for a family of five who only made around $30,000 a year – was ludicrous and out of reach.

And so we were sent packing. At the start of my sophomore year, I was homeless. Staying in a Motel Six, I shared a bed with my little brother, just a few away from my parents. My family was stressed out during this ordeal, constantly bickering at one another, blaming each other, distancing ourselves. Never before had I felt like I had lost such a big piece of me.

Even if we didn’t have a place to call home, I still felt some comfort – at least we were together.

I was scared and ashamed to even think of going to school, afraid someone would find out, afraid I would be ostracized.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I wasn’t persecuted. They never judged or pitied me. My peers treated me the same.

The fact that the teachers know the students so well at our school, allowed them to pick up on the fact that something was wrong with me. Teachers showed their support in small, subtle ways. Checking in on me to see if I was ok and asking if I needed any help.

Thankfully, however we were able to find a home – all the way in Fort Lupton. Yes, Fort Lupton. And, for those of you who may not know, Fort Lupton is at least a 40-minute drive up north.

Nevertheless, it was home.

My parents valued the education STRIVE gave me, they saw the support and care they poured into teaching me. So they let me choose whether to stay at STRIVE or go to Fort Lupton High School.

I knew that if I were to change schools that they wouldn’t offer me the same experience, the same motivation and support each teacher carries with them, nor would they ever be able to rival the compassionate and culture rich community.

Although some days it’s hard to get out of bed, I know it’s worth it. I’m not wasting my time, and my sacrifice will pay off.

STRIVE has let me realize my dream. I want to become a psychologist – one who specializes in working with children. I’ve been accepted to the University of Northern Colorado, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Azusa Pacific in Southern California.

While my final decision has yet be made, it is because of STRIVE that I even have that decision to make. This truly is what STRIVE is about, making sure kids like me have the chance to dream big and achieve our dreams. I am forever grateful. Thank you!

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Sixth grade scholars at STRIVE Prep – Kepner got a firsthand look at what life is like on a college campus when they visited the University of Colorado Denver this month.


Scholars loved having the opportunity to ask questions from current CU Denver students.

After spending the morning learning more about the history, student culture and admission

requirements of “CU in the City,” scholars got the chance to have a panel-style chat with two current students at the university.

Understandably curious, scholars asked thoughtful questions about everything from the basics of campus life and dorm food to the kinds of challenges that can come up relative to course work and social situations.

But, the highlight for most scholars was getting to see a real college dorm room.

The trip inspired many Mustangs to think about becoming a CU Denver Lynx one day.

Scholars enjoyed walking through the shared Auraria campus.

Sixth grader Jose Angel said he would like to attend CU Denver someday because the kindness of staff and current students made him feel like a part of the community already.

“I see that students here know how to respect people who come to visit their school,” he said.


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Congratulations to Edgar D. Campos Escobedo, a STRIVE Prep – Excel Lion edgar-escobedo-newsletterwho was named a finalist for the 2017 Class of Daniels Scholars. Daniels Fund Scholars receive financial assistance throughout their college journey, as well as additional resources, support and inspiration to make sure they thrive in college. Edgar hopes to attend University of Colorado Denver and study Architecture, he has been interning at a local architecture firm for the past six months and hopes to continue his work with the firm into college.  Join us in wishing Edgar good luck as he moves on to the next step, a personal interview conducted by local community leaders in February!

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In 2016, STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy met the enormous milestone of handing out its first set of diplomas to the first graduating class in the network’s history. Ninety two percent of those graduating seniors were accepted to a four-year college or university.

We’ve been thrilled to hear from alumni who are thriving in new cities, classes, leadership opportunities, activities and athletics as their first semester of college wraps up. We’ve also gained inspiration from members of the college class of 2020 who are sharing their experiences and helping this year’s senior class of Ocelotls with their unique college plans.

In the fall, current senior Gabriel Yuen travelled to Iowa to meet up with SMART alum, Jose Garcia-gabriel-yuen-jose-garcia-at-drake-universityFuerte, on the Drake University campus. Gabriel got to hear first hand what day-to-day life is like for a first year, out-of-state student on campus from someone who came from the same community. Although Gabriel hasn’t decided where he’ll attend college yet, he has an impressive list of schools that he’s been accepted to, including Drake, Tulane University, and Coe College, which offered him a full-ride scholarship.

And, Gabriel isn’t the only scholar who is well on his way to college. With just a few weeks until 2017, 84 percent of this year’s class has already gained acceptance to a 4-year college or university. But, we know that getting to college is just half the battle. Getting through college is just as challenging. So, the College Corner team brought in a few local experts.

From Boulder, to Fort Collins and right here in Denver, SMART Academy alumni used the start of their winter break help their fellow Ocelotls keep their momentum on their journey to college going. Seniors were excited and thankful to gain valuable advice and hear about what it takes to be successful in the first semester of college.

We are so proud of our first senior class and grateful to them for returning to their high school to share what they’ve learned. It’s a true testament to the amazing community that is the SMART Colectivo. Check out the photo gallery of their visit below!




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Our network’s youngest scholars at STRIVE Prep – Ruby Hill work and study hard to build the foundations of literacy they need to be prepared for success in middle school and high school.


STRIVE Prep’s youngest scholars are working to build a love of reading and necessary literacy foundations from a young age.

At the elementary school level, STRIVE Prep scholars are focused on learning to read so that as they transition to fourth grade they have the reading skills they need to be successful learners in all other subjects and future grade levels. When students enter middle school already having mastered critical reading skills, they’re able to hit the ground running and tackle more challenges at faster rates.

Across the network, STRIVE Prep is focused on building out campus libraries – increasing access to books that are based on interest and ability helps scholars build confidence and develop a love for reading.  We teach students to dissect words and text for meaning and understanding. We use small group instruction to support vocabulary development, reading comprehension and fluency. At the same time, we provide additional support to teachers by demonstrating effective strategies for teaching literacy.  The results are in and when we put it all together – students are confident, joyful and ready to take on new challenges.

This work isn’t easy, but the entire network was thrilled to learn that Ruby Hill’s efforts have paid off. In fact, the percentage of kindergartners on grade level in literacy went from 11% to 88%

during the 2015-16 school year. This also contributed to the school receiving a BLUE or Distinguished rating on the 2015-16 School Performance Framework (SPF).

We’ve been able to build incredible momentum thanks to everyone in our community who has worked hard and given their time to support Ruby Hill scholars. STRIVE Prep teachers and school leaders pour themselves into preparing our scholars to be college-focused and ready. Our community of supporters have offered their time and financial support to build STRIVE Prep into a network that can serve all students across Denver. And, who could forget our students and families, who put a great deal of effort into learning and growing every day.

Each of these groups are necessary to help scholars succeed.


Will you help us build on this success by scheduling a gift to STRIVE Prep for Colorado Gives Day, December 6, giving our youngest learners what they need to build essential literacy skills that will propel them on the path to college?

Schedule your donation today.

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As October, also known as College Application Month, comes to an end, we are excited to celebrate and share the college acceptances of our seniors at STRIVE Prep – SMART and STRIVE Prep – Excel just one quarter into the school year.

At STRIVE Prep – SMART, 31 percent of seniors have taken the next step in being a part of the college class of 2021 having been accepted into a four-year college or university. Acceptances from colleges around the state, including University of Colorado (Denver and Colorado Springs), University of Northern Colorado and Colorado State University have started coming in and scholars are receiving new acceptances daily.  

The first ever senior class from STRIVE Prep – Excel is also working hard to earn acceptance to four year colleges and to create a legacy for the Lions for years to come.

Congratulations to our seniors on a successful first quarter and College Application Month. We are proud of all you’ve done and will continue to do to #STRIVE4College!



Eight months from now, seniors from STRIVE Prep – Excel and STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy will walk across a stage and receive their high school diplomas.

But, these scholars are also focused on the other diploma they hope to earn four years and eight months from now, when they become members of the College Class of 2021.

Applying to college is a daunting task for all students, which is why campus specific college access teams are available to work with scholars every step of the way.

STRIVE Prep’s College Access Teams support students with everything from class scheduling and organizing college visits to completing college applications and financial aid planning.

This month, meet the STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy College Access team, and check back next month to meet the STRIVE Prep – Excel team!

STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy College Access Team


Ms. Gutierrez and Ms. Trujillo are two members of the College Access Team at STRIVE Prep – SMART.

Vanessa Trujillo, Assistant Principal of College Access

Ms. Trujillo teaches a year long Senior Seminar course focused on the entire college application process. From developing lists of colleges, to finalizing personal statements, decoding the financial aid process and other transition supports, she works with seniors from beginning to end to make sure they will be successful in college. She also leads FAFSA nights for families, assists with graduation planning, scholarship support and is the Chair of the Undocumented Student Task Force.

Welcoming on September 26, Kandi Brown, Director of College Access

Ms. Brown will plan weekly College Access lessons for all grades, as well as family events and in-state and out-of-state college visits. She will also assist scholars with finding with summer program and internship opportunities and teach a second semester Junior Seminar course focused on college-prep.

Guadalupe Gutierrez, Registrar

Ms. Gutierrez develops the master schedule for all scholars to make sure they meet graduation requirements, monitors all data to make sure students are on track and fulfills record requests for college applications. She also plans the 9th and 10th grade college visit trips.

Making sure that students feel 100 percent supported through their entire college journey is the number one priority for the Ocelot College Access Team.

“Scholars will know that they have a safe space of love, support, and many motivational pep talks,” said Ms. Trujillo about her College Access Office, named The College Corner. “It is important for our scholars to have someone to talk to whenever they have a question about their future. Most of our scholars are going into this process as first generation students; we will embrace that, celebrate them, and show them that college is accessible.”

The team hopes that students will be accepted into colleges that are a good fit for them and their goals, and know that it is their job, beginning freshman year, to guide scholars and help them develop the skills they need to be successful in high school, college, and beyond.

“I’ve had the opportunity of teaching the class of 2017 since they were freshmen, I remember so many students would always ask me why they were taking College Access at a young age and blatantly state that they did not want to go to college,” said Ms. Trujillo. “Now, I have those same students working tirelessly to complete their personal statements and studying to retake the ACT for higher scores.”


Jose Garcia-FuerteBy Jose Garcia-Fuerte
STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy Alumni & STRIVE Prep Intern

My name is Jose Garcia-Fuerte, recent graduate from STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy (Go Ocelots!) and incoming freshman at Drake University. This summer, I had the absolute honor to join one of the “best squads at STRIVE Prep – Central” – the External Affairs team.

Aside from wanting to stay busy throughout my summer, I had always wanted to do something meaningful that would make a difference. Working with STRIVE Prep has allowed me to bring in skills that I have learned throughout school and implement them in the workplace. For example, I never thought that learning how to use an agenda/calendar properly would come in so handy. I’d probably be a mess right now without it. Nor did I realize how important it was to take meeting notes so efficiently, and that has pretty much saved my life up to this point.

All jokes aside…interning at STRIVE Prep is just one more experience I can add to the list of things that have helped me get one step closer toward success at Drake.

With an interest in political science and marketing, I knew the External Affairs team would be a great fit. I would have the opportunity to partake in interdisciplinary work and get a head start on projects related to those fields. This came in the form of a myriad of projects such as creating and promoting Support Seminars for recent graduates, analyzing media coverage of STRIVE Prep and Denver’s education environment, supporting registration for STRIVE Prep families, advocating and reinforcing the need for a second STRIVE Prep elementary school, researching and identifying award programs to honor STRIVE Prep staff and schools and more – all while fast-tracking my professional competence in the work field.

But I have not just been working to give myself a head start in college. Working with the team’s regional outreach and engagement managers, I have also been helping to give my former fellow classmates a head start as well. The work that I have been assisting with will allow my former classmates and future STRIVE Prep seniors to be ready for college not only academically, but also to be financially literate and responsible. My peers and I will also be faced with tons of social challenges that we have not yet experienced. But, through the Senior Support sessions created by Regional Outreach and Engagement Manager, Jose Loera and me, we as students have obtained essential tools to identify challenges and approach them respectively.

STRIVE Prep has done so much for me as a student, and there was only so much I could do to give back to those who have helped me get to where I am today. I want to set a foundation for future graduates to also have the same opportunity as I did to work with STRIVE Prep and be able to obtain essential work skills that will set scholars on a life-ready course after college.

I simply cannot thank everyone enough for giving me the opportunity to expand my professional network and allowing me to partake in conversations that I’ve been able to gather ideas from, add to my toolbox and implement into my college life and in a future work environment.

Thank you all!


Eight years ago, attending college was far from STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy scholar Eliel Trillo’s mind. It wasn’t always an easy journey, but through his own tenacity and perseverance, as well as the help of dedicated teachers and leaders who believed in his true potential, he will walk across the stage to receive his diploma this Saturday, May 28th.