Student Success is a Team Effort

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by LaToya Fernandez
Teacher, Discovery Prep

Rocketship’s mission to eliminate the achievement gap lives in the hearts of our students, the tenacity of our teachers, the urgency of our school leaders and the collective sense of possibility within the entire Rocketship community. When folks inquire about Discovery Prep – is it a good school? Should I send my child here? What do you offer? – I don’t rattle off all the exceptional work students, teachers, parents and leaders do daily on our campus. Instead, I ask families to visit our classrooms, ask our students questions and see for themselves that when we talk about eliminating the achievement gap, we bring our weight to the game. Nowhere is this mission more apparent than in the story of Esmeralda Bonilla, a current fifth grade Rocketeer at Discovery Prep. Her story highlights what it takes to eliminate the achievement gap – not me, you, him, her, parent, leader or teacher, but rather, us. Together, we are eliminating the achievement gap.

Esmeralda came to Discovery Prep in fall 2013. From the first day of school, she has consistently demonstrated a hunger for progress. As the eldest sibling in a single-parent household, she makes it clear to everyone that she wants to go to college to change not only her life, but her brother’s life as well. But dreams are only as powerful as the actions behind them. When Esmeralda entered Discovery Prep as a fourth grader, she was extremely behind academically. Esmeralda’s fourth grade team supported her with Tier II tutoring in the learning lab and guided reading from her teacher.

I started working closely with Esmeralda that same year, and tutored her during lunch and after school. Because of this collective effort, Esmeralda’s reading started to improve. Notably, her fluency increased her reading by 125 words per minute.

Esmeralda with some of the Rocketship teachers dedicated to her success.

Esmeralda with some of the Rocketship teachers dedicated to her success.

Esmeralda came back to Discovery Prep this year motivated to be on the path to college. As I transitioned into teaching fifth grade literacy, I was excited to expand on the relationship that Esmeralda and I had built last year and continue rigorous instruction with her. I also knew this work cannot be done alone. To help Esmeralda stay invested in all the hard work she needed to do this year, and knowing that Esmeralda loves football, I enlisted the support of two of our physical education coaches. Both the coaches had started a football team, and in collaboration with them, we infused her love of football with her motivation to work hard in class. Initially, Esmeralda became deeply invested in her academic progress so she could attend football practice and games. Today, Esmeralda is invested in her progress because she is keenly aware her hard work will help her actualize her dreams.

Now, Esmeralda continues to stay after school for tutoring, works with me, her grade level math coach, her math teacher, her ILS and her mom to consistently turn in college-bound work and meet her weekly, interim and end-of-year goals. She has learned the importance of academic discipline and consistency, and has truly begun to shine amongst her peers. In fact, I have never been more proud than in writing this next sentence: Esmeralda made her hard work apparent when she grew more than any other fifth grader on her winter NWEA Literacy exam. Esmeralda went from performing in the bottom quartile of students to proving how at Rocketship, we don’t pay lip service to our mission. We go after it with every instructional and cultural decision we make. I think back to our Winter NWEA celebration – as Esmeralda collected her awards and ran through the crowd, giving high fives. It was clear she has begun to spread her wings and will soar as both a successful student and productive member of society. Because of Esmeralda and countless other students like her in our organization, I am proud and humbled to be a Rocketeer, working collectively with other Rocketeers to eliminate the achievement gap.


LaToya started her career at Rocketship as a member of the support staff team. She transitioned to an enrichment coordinator then a Rocketship tutor (ILS) before becoming a fifth grade humanities teacher at Discovery Prep. LaToya graduated from Newbury College in Boston where she studied Media writing and English.

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