Gerson Quinteros, 19, a graduate of Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., credits the school with providing him the knowledge and skills to succeed and a commitment to giving back. He’s currently a sophomore at the University of the District of Columbia, majoring in Computer Science, and in his spare time volunteers at Capital City, coaching soccer, swimming and writing. He is also a role model and resource for undocumented immigrant students who are navigating their way to college – a path that he himself forged as a high school senior.
Karen Dresden, Founder and Head of School at Capital City, which is an Expeditionary Learning Mentor School, said that Gerson is one of the school’s most engaged alums. “Gerson has a true understanding of service and what it means to give back to his community,” she said. “It is amazing to see him put the leadership skills he learned attending an Expeditionary Learning School into action in a way that makes a real difference in our community.”
Gerson saw the value of his Capital City education during his first semester in college. In his Discovering Technology class, students were required to do a research paper on a technology issue. Gerson chose cybersecurity and immediately set out to use databases, including the National Archives, to conduct his research. He later learned that many of his classmates didn’t know how to do a research project. He had the same experience in English class - his professor was forced to do a special class to teach students how to annotate a paper.
“I was thinking why are we doing this? It’s high school stuff. I was surprised my classmates didn’t know this. When the teacher saw that I had these skills, she said I didn’t have to attend the class,” Gerson said.
Gerson’s journey to college required courage, hard work and perseverance. In 2004, Gerson came to the U.S. from El Salvador. In middle school, not knowing any English, he was placed in classes for English Language Learners. He felt isolated and was often a target of bullying.
“I started in the fifth grade, but people thought I was in the second grade because I was short. I didn’t talk to anyone,” he said.
Starting high school at Capital City was a different experience. “The first day I was at Capital City, I made friends. I was never bullied. The environment was always friendly and supportive,” he said.
He added, “I wasn’t separated from other students and was treated the same as other kids from day one. My English developed more as a result. We would also proofread each others’ work which helped a lot.”
In his senior year at Capital City, while Congress debated the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) that proposed to provide conditional residency to undocumented immigrants, Gerson worried that failure of the bill could jeopardize his chances to go to college.
He turned his fears into the subject of his senior project, developing a report featuring a list of eligible colleges and scholarships for undocumented students as well as a video for parents. He also researched his options to help ensure he was accepted to college for fall 2012.
Though the DREAM Act didn’t pass, President Obama signed an executive order in June 2012 that lifted the threat of deportation for young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children, allowing them to work and study in the United States.
After being accepted to the University of Washington D.C., Gerson became a role model for other undocumented immigrants at Capital City. Last year, he worked with 15 self-reported undocumented students he met through the school’s immigration reform student group that he started and still leads. He also is active in the movement to pass legislation to provide undocumented immigrants a direct and permanent path to citizenship. He helped organize about 20 students to go to the Immigration Reform March held last year in Washington.
Gerson is proud that he’s come full circle and is now a role model at Capital City. “Capital City has given me so much and it makes me happy to give back,” he said.