Preparing To Leave the Cardinal Nest: An Interview with Graduating Eighth Grader José Duran and His Mother

From left to right: Giselle, José, Lourdes, Tomas, and Michelle

In just three short months, the first-ever eighth grade class will graduate from Brilla Public Charter Schools. Ahead this major milestone, excitement, nervousness, and nostalgia abound. Lourdes Robles, mother of graduating eighth grader José Duran, captured it well when she said, “I’m sad Brilla doesn’t yet go through high school.* But I know they’ve prepared my son well for this next step.”

The Duran’s journey with Brilla began in the summer of 2013. Determined to find the right school for her eldest child, Lourdes walked around her neighborhood looking for charter schools. As she walked down 144th Street, she noticed a bright red building with a sign out front that said “Accepting Applications.” With her three young children in tow, she walked inside to inquire. Lourdes was immediately put at ease when the Front Office staff greeted them with a warm “¡Bienvenidos!” Lourdes still remembers that conversation. “The staff were so kind. I was so grateful they could speak Spanish. They were gentle and answered all my questions.” Before leaving the office, Lourdes filled out an application for her son. Lourdes visited a few other local charter schools that afternoon, but none compared to Brilla. When she got the call that there was space available for José in the first grade class at Brilla College Prep Elementary (BCPE), Lourdes was thrilled. “I knew Brilla would be the best place for my son.”

Almost eight years later, Lourdes feels the same way. “Brilla is truly the best place for my kids,” she repeated several times. All the Duran children are enrolled at Brilla: José in eighth grade at Brilla College Prep Middle (BCPM), Michelle in sixth grade at BCPM, and Giselle in fourth grade at BCPE. As for their favorite part of Brilla, José and his mom agreed: the teachers. José shared, “I am so grateful for all the support and effort of my teachers. I’m grateful for all of the programs they’ve introduced me to and all the help they’ve given me in the high school application process. They check in on me and challenge me to do better.”

José has several strong prospects for high school including offers from local Catholic schools. Both he and his mom expressed gratitude for the guidance and support of Director of High School Readiness Mr. Matesic and his team. José said he is particularly grateful to Mr. Joseph and Mr. Sayer for helping him prepare for the TACHS Exam for Catholic schools. Lourdes added, “Mr. Joseph, Mr. Sayer, and Mr. Matesic answered every question we had. Even if I texted them on a weekend, they would respond. Without them, none of this would be possible. We are a team.”

José working with Mr. Matesic, Mr. Joseph, and several classmates preparing for a specialized high school entrance exam

José’s high school acceptances are a testament to his hard work and dedication. At the encouragement of his teachers, José has earned seats at various enrichment programs, which have introduced him to different academic fields and extracurriculars. In fact, thanks to one of these programs at Columbia University Medical School, he dreams of becoming a doctor. Another aspiration he has is to start his own business. Regardless of the career path he pursues, José plans to give back. José shared, “My family is from Mexico. I would love someday to give back to the culture where I come from.”

Lourdes told me about the joys and challenges of raising her family in this country. “I always dreamed about raising my family in the United States.” But this dream hasn’t come without a cost. She shared how difficult it is to be far away from extended family. “To me, family is one of the most important things in life.” She continued that, in light of this challenge, she is particularly grateful to Brilla. “It’s not easy having children. I’m so grateful that Brilla is here to support me. Everybody at Brilla knows our family. It’s like they’re a part of our family.” Indeed, even though José and his classmates will not be Brilla students in the Fall, they’ve gained a family that will support them for life. And while we’re sad to see José and his classmates leave, we are proud that they will spread the Brilla family warmth beyond our nest.

*Note: In Fall 2022, Vertex Partnership Academies plans to open, offering a guaranteed high school option to rising 9th graders from Brilla Public Charter Schools and Public Prep Academies. Vertex Partnership Academies is a new network of character-based, International Baccalaureate high schools. Learn more here.

José throughout his Brilla years

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danielle Schirripa is Special Projects Manager for the Brilla School Network. In her role, she assists the Executive Director in external communication and fundraising. She studied Mathematics and Philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Originally from Boston, MA, she enjoys spending time at the beach and watching the Red Sox. 

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