Magazine Feature / People

Senior works to reform high school

As a junior at North High School, Julieta Quinonez thought she was receiving a great education. She took accelerated and advanced placement courses and earned good grades.

But when a simple survey asked about her college plans, she was at a loss.

“I had never met with a counselor. No one ever talked to me about college,” she remembers. 

The survey was distributed by a community organization called Padres y Jovenes Unidos, or Parents and Youth United. Quinonez got involved with the organization and the results have been dramatic.

Within a year, Unidos published “The Voices of 700 Students” — a report based on its survey. It generated a lot of attention within Denver Public Schools and at the University of Denver, which contacted Quinonez and asked her to submit an application. She was accepted and offered a full-ride scholarship.

As a first-year student at DU, Quinonez realized that counseling wasn’t the only area she’d been shortchanged.

“The first paper I did took me four times as long as anyone else and I still got a D,” she says. “It was because of basic skills, like grammar, that I was never taught in high school.”

The report also launched a complete overhaul of North High School, and Quinonez, now a senior at DU majoring in sociology and political science, has been active in reforming the school.

Pam Martinez, co-director of Unidos, says that Quinonez is “a leader in the truest sense. She’s willing to speak up, willing to risk a lot to speak the truth, and willing to represent the voice of students who are traditionally locked out. And she does it with clarity, from her own experience and with passion.”

Quinonez works 20–25 hours each week with Unidos, now a student club at North. She teaches leadership, public speaking and media skills. 

“There are days when I’m tired and ready to give up, but I see a student who is confident in what she’s doing and I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

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