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From Ednium: Seeing people for who they are

Editor’s note: This piece by Kiara Chavez is the latest installment of monthly contributions to Boardhawk from Ednium: The Alumni Collective.

The first time I heard of Ednium, I was at an event to meet the new superintendent, Dr. Alex Marrero, with others in the DPS community.

Ednium was introduced as a community for DPS alumni, and I immediately wanted to get involved. When I reached out, they suggested I participate in the Leadership Launchpad, and while I was very aware that as a person who loves community, it is easy to stretch myself thin, what Ednium was offering spoke to me.

Growing up, my mom heavily emphasized the importance of education. I started at KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy in middle school and then attended and graduated from KIPP Denver Collegiate High School.

I loved school and excelled with the support of my teachers. When I was a freshman, our school encouraged us to advocate for and lead clubs and activities we wanted established. I was entrenched in my school community. I co-founded a monthly news show, led the soccer team as captain, and served as student council president.

But when it came time for me to go to college in 2015, I struggled with my immigrant identity. I always wanted to go to college, but there were certain limits placed on me because of my undocumented status, like not being eligible for FAFSA and having limited access to scholarships.

I felt a lot of anxiety. I felt in the dark. Ultimately, it was my community who helped me wade through those challenging times when everything felt so uncertain.

I found community in my college at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and in my first career opportunity. I graduated with a job at a small theater in Boulder with a grand mission “to create original theater to facilitate dialogue on critical issues of our time.”

In addition to my full-time role, I also developed and performed my own autobiographical monologue on my experience having grown up undocumented in the U.S. Seeing the stories of undocumented leaders elevated on stage for who they are and not their immigration status encouraged me to want to be in service to the community.

When I joined Ednium’s Leadership Launchpad, it was an opportunity to meet emerging leaders in Denver — Launchpad members and the Ednium staff alike. I met monthly with DPS alumni from different backgrounds, some college graduates and others who obtained their GED.

We shared vulnerable conversations about leadership styles, including the types of leaders we wanted to be as we leveraged our own experiences with DPS. We also learned about the education landscape as a whole and the current issues within DPS.

Our experience culminated in the development of an education-focused project that would improve public education for future generations.

Being that our cohort was highly philosophical, we had a hard time landing on just one project; we were constantly lifting up questions and ideas throughout the process. At the last meeting, we all presented our top 1-2 ideas to the group. You could feel the shift in the room when my friend Gigi presented her idea.

She shared a story of her cousin who had graduated from high school with a credential in addition to her diploma. Our cohort was immediately engaged because we felt this pathway offered students tangible opportunities in life including access to income.

It struck a chord with me personally. After graduating from college, I adopted the hobby of doing my own nails. I bought the equipment and trained myself via YouTube videos. I even researched beauty schools and toured a facility near my house thinking it would be a sustainable side hustle.

When Gigi presented the idea, I thought about how wonderful it would have been for me to have had this accreditation to help make extra money while I was in college. And I recognized that this could be an incredible opportunity for current and future high school students.

After selecting our project, we began the process of implementing credentials of value as a priority in Ednium’s work. Our cohort toured schools that offer credentials for a small number of students who can take advantage. We worked through some of the stigmas around a credential school and how to overcome those challenges. Then, we presented our project to the Ednium community during Ednium’s second annual TopGolf Fundraiser.

Our cohort believes that DPS students should have the option to graduate with a credential of value because it provides tangible life skills that can help students earn money and build a solid career path. Ednium has taken up the charge of advocating for this initiative in order to make this a reality for future students.

The partnerships, conversations, research and authentic connections are what make Ednium different. We will follow through to implementation because we can’t afford to let this important work get pushed to the side.

Last year, I was asked to join the Alumni Council for Ednium, and I jumped at the opportunity. I felt it was a way to stay formally connected to Ednium and the work I believe in. The Council is a space where, as alumni, we oversee and vote on initiatives that guide the Ednium team and elevate the mission.

I am committed to volunteering my time and lifting up the work we are doing as an organization to get more people involved.

Recently, I was nominated to be the chair of the Alumni Council. I feel honored to be serving in the position where I lead meetings and work with admirable leaders to push Ednium to the next level. There are exceptional people on the council, and I want to help lift their expertise.

When I reflect on my journey thus far, I recognize that I owe everything to the support of my community. It is my hope that all students have better access to opportunities and support needed to excel in life, and that we, as alumni, can help contribute to that future.