I’m not a college counselor so I can help a kid complete their FAFSA. I’m a college counselor so I can help a student tell their story.
I learn about their academics and their experiences, their parents and their mentors, their time on the soccer field or in the Boy Scouts. Then, I take all of this in and I help the student write about it.
I help them understand the importance of connecting their past to their future—that a good college match depends on their understanding of who they are, where they come from, and where they want to go. And I help my students realize that not only do they deserve a world-class education, but—more importantly—world-class educational institutions also deserve them.
I want a student to say, “Mr. Contreras, UT-Austin does need to know how I think; my voice is needed at Dartmouth; Stanford does deserve to hear my perspective.” So, no—this job isn’t about sitting with a student and filling out a form.
This is not transactional work to me. This is transformational work.
I’m a Mexican American kid out of the north side of Houston. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve been through a lot. My dad was…well, he was murdered a couple years ago. And for all my life, he was a heroin addict. My mom too.
We saw some pretty hard times. My brother and I were raised by my grandparents. And my grandpa, he was my role model. His own father died of heatstroke picking cotton in the fields of West Texas, and my grandpa wanted a different future for our family. He preached education. “You don’t want to be a mule your whole life,” he would say, “Education is the ticket out.” And it was.
During middle school, I had a wonderful guidance counselor who connected me with a scholarship to go off to Philips Exeter for high school. I can’t—I can’t tell you what that did for me. But, I will say this: Every success I have ever had relates to the fact that, a long time ago, a scholarship kid got an opportunity. That’s the genesis for what pushes me to do this work.
I’m so proud that my family built their life on hard work. I’m so proud that I got an education and that I’ve lived up to the hopes and dreams of my grandparents. And on a professional note, I’m so proud that I’m a Latino in a position of senior leadership. My voice is being heard. That is what we want for our students.
At KIPP, what we do goes beyond metrics and benchmarks. It goes beyond math and reading. We do this work so that our students can have a seat at any table.