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A Charter School Helped Me Achieve My Dreams, And Now My Kids Are Achieving Theirs, Too

I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, by my Mexican-American mother. Since my mother is American, I inherited American citizenship. But at the age of 14, I was asked to choose one citizenship—Mexican or American. Deciding which citizenship to keep was tough for me, especially because I never lived in the United States. So, my parents and I agreed that I would move to the U.S. temporarily to live with my dad’s family. 

Although moving away from my immediate family was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, it was also one of the most important decisions. It made me who I am today.

In 1997, I started ninth grade at Milby High School, where I attended English as a second language (ESL) classes. My English was very poor but—in part because of my very enthusiastic math teacher, Mr. Desrosiers—I excelled in my Algebra 1 class. 

YES College Prep

At the end of my freshman year, Mr. Desrosiers announced to our math class that he was transferring to a charter school and personally recommended some of the students in our class to apply. Since YES College Preparatory was just opening, the variety of courses were limited and ESL classes were not yet available. But thanks to my strong math skills, I was accepted, and I transferred from ESL classes to AP classes within three months! This wouldn’t have been possible if it weren't for the support and encouragement I received from my teachers at YES College Prep. 

As graduation approached, I became anxious—as my future was uncertain. Although YES took me on multiple spring trips to New York, Pennsylvania, California, Florida and Texas to learn about different schools, majors and scholarships, I still didn’t know what I would do. On one hand, I saw a bright future in this country. But on the other, my family was still waiting for me in Mexico. I wasn’t sure if the best decision was for me to stay in the United States and find a job to help support my family, or if I should move back to Mexico to live with my family.  

Pursuing My Dream With the Help of My Charter School Family

Even though Mr. Desrosiers knew my dilemma, he encouraged me to apply for colleges and scholarships. He saw potential in me that I didn’t see, and he encouraged me to pursue my dream. In May of 2001, I was accepted to nine different colleges and awarded a full scholarship from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME). If it weren’t for YES College Prep, I wouldn’t have known about NACME or about Drexel University. 

In 2006, I graduated from Drexel University as a mechanical engineer and became the first member of my entire extended family to graduate from college. I will be forever thankful to YES College Prep for caring about my education and me.

After graduation, I felt lost. I did not know anyone with a college degree or what I was supposed to do next. So I did the only thing I could think to do—I returned to Houston and had a very serious conversation with Mr. Desrosiers, who recommended a few next steps. I knew that in him, I had a coach and mentor who was genuinely willing to help.

Giving Back to a School That Gave So Much

I am now a global technical marketing manager for Halliburton and I feel very blessed to have had the support and love from my YES College Prep family. Because I was once very lost, confused and discouraged, I promised myself that I would help future generations with the transition process from college to professional life. Today I engage with current college students through mentoring, which helps me to better understand the needs of our community and to seek new ways to engage YES alumni.

In 2018, I became the first president of the YES Alumni Association. This association’s main objective is to coach, connect and provide job opportunities to YES Alumni. I was also honored to be the first alumni invited to join the YES College Preparatory Board of Directors. My goal is to bring my experience as a YES student, a first-generation college graduate, a Hispanic, and now a mother of two boys to this important work. 

As a mother, I wanted the best opportunities for my children to prepare them for their future adventures. I had a difficult time deciding which school would give my boys the best education and I decided to reach out for professional guidance from Wendy Neal of My Child, My Voice. I knew a dual-language program was a necessity and, thankfully, we ended up finding a trilingual program at a charter school close to our home.

My boys currently attend International Leadership of Texas and they love their charter school. As a parent, I am very thankful for the opportunity we have to choose the very best option for our kids. Not all kids learn the same way, and being able to choose the school that works the best for our kids is extremely important.

Luly Castillo is a technical marketing manager at Halliburton with a mechanical engineering degree from Drexel University. Luly graduated from YES Prep Public Charter School in 2001 and is now a member of the board of directors. Luly is also the mother of two boys who attend International Leadership Texas Charter School.

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