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Rubi: Future chef, baker and business owner achieves recipe for success

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Rubi Esquival-Estaban and Principal Kenyatta Hill-Hall
Rubi Esquival-Estaban and Principal Kenyatta Hill-Hall

When she’s not in school or studying, you may find Rubi Esquival-Estaban in the kitchen trying out a new recipe or baking a favorite treat for her family. The Grand Rapids UPrep senior is gathering all the ingredients to make her dream of opening her own bakery one day a reality

We're joined by Rubi Esquival-Estaban 12th grade student, Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy, KCTC Hospitality & Culinary Program, Launch U and Kenyatta Hill-Hall , Principal, Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy.

Joy Walczak (JW): Welcome to the Your Dream is Our Dream podcast where we celebrate student success one dream at a time. This program is made possible by Kent ISD in partnership with WGVU. I'm Joy Walczak and I have with me today Ruby Esquivel-Esteban, a senior at Grand Rapids U Prep Academy and a student at Kent Career Tech Center's Hospitality and Culinary program plus Launch U. We'll learn more about all of that in a minute. But we're also joined today by U Prep principal Kenyatta Hill-Hall, who inspires all of her students to reach their goals every day. Thanks so much for inviting us to your school today.

Rubi (RE): You're welcome.

Kenyatta (KH): Thank you for being here.

JW: We're so happy to be here. I want to start right away by talking to you, Ms. Hill-Hall, about what is Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy?

KH: So U-Prep is a middle high school within Grand Rapids Public Schools. We stand on, we're an institution based on, innovation and partnerships. We are a trailblazer because we are the first public-private partnership in Grand Rapids Public Schools. We serve approximately 480 scholars, and we are committed to building meaningful relationships with our scholars and our parents and caregivers. We are dedicated to creating individual pathways for our scholars around post-secondary planning and career exploration.

JW: That's terrific. And that's part of what we're getting to today. We love to talk about students and their dreams and find out what's really helping them succeed. So why don't we talk to you a little bit, Rubi? Can you share with us some of your goals? I know you have a lot of them.

RE: Yeah, so I basically just, I'm thinking about going into like the baking and pastry field. I'm hoping to open my own place someday. I was thinking like a little bakery and like a coffee shop, but I'm also interested in like the dental field. I was thinking about maybe going to dental school and then eventually specializing in like orthodontics. That's pretty much like what I have right now in my head. Yeah.

JW: That's wonderful. I can see how a program like U-Prep is really a great place for you to start. And also, when you're talking about your goals, can you tell us where you see yourself in the future, like you just have a little bit, but then also how school, both here and at KCTC, are helping you get there?

RE: Yeah, so this school has definitely helped me prepare myself for the post-secondary world. We've just, ever since I started as a freshman, I began taking dual enrollment classes, and that has definitely helped me kind of get an insight as to what college would be and also help me build my credits early on so that it's something I won't have to worry as much when I actually go into college. And then KCTC has helped me just kind of explore the culinary field and it just kind of made me realize that cooking and baking is what I really want to do. It's no doubt that that's something that I want to make a career out of. So that was just definitely helpful because it's also helping me get credit and that will help me when I go to college in the future. So I'm thinking, like, after I graduate high school, I'm going straight to maybe GRCC, or I was thinking even, like, Baker College to kind of pursue that baking and pastry part. And then, somewhere along the way, maybe I'll think about going back to school for possibly doing dental, but yeah.

JW: Terrific. Also, you talked about GRCC and your connection and already getting college credits, and that's part of the Launch U program. Tell us a little bit about that and what you'll achieve through that program.

RE: So Launch U is basically just like a program designed for culinary students in which they can take the required college classes for like the culinary field. And basically what that's going to help us do is just kind of start building like those real world connections with like the culinary professors and just like the program itself. And then when we complete the program, it's like two years when you're still in school, and then you'd have a 13th year that's strictly at GRCC. And so, basically, once you complete the program, you're going to graduate with a certificate in either, like, baking and pastry or whatever specialty that you choose, and then you also get that along with your high school diploma. So you're basically kind of fresh out of high school, but you already have your certificate because of the program.

JW: And also an associate degree, which is an important part of Launch U. And I love that you're connecting with GRCC's hospitality program, which aligns beautifully with your desires and dreams, and also with KCTC's program. Launch U also has opportunities for students in IT and other areas, so it's a great way for someone to get ahead while they're still in high school.

RE: Yep, exactly.

JW: And you have wonderful ways, Miss Hill Hall, to help your students really achieve. I know that Rubi has shared with us that she's had real world experiences while still in high school. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that's important, especially when we're thinking about students and their dreams of their futures?

KH: So we believe strongly at U Prep that with making these authentic relationships and giving our scholars an opportunity to share their voices that this helps us to create a pathway. And not just only with the scholars, but with their parents and caregivers, and then, also with community partners right here in Grand Rapids. And so, starting off in 6th and 7th grade, we have our scholars do reverse job shadow. In 8th grade, our scholars start working on creating their resume, a cover letter, and doing job shadow. Rubi was able to participate in an internship in her 9th and 10th grade that we intertwined. And so KCTC really lends itself to be one of the best partners that we have because of the opportunities to really help us, because as a school there's only oh so much that we can do, but it allows our scholars to have the clear pathway and to have some real life continue with real life connections and then also the importance of mentorship and also the importance of experiences and field work. And so we love that opportunity.

JW: Absolutely. Rubi, why do you think it's important for us as adults in your life, as your educators, as your parents, caregivers, to ask you about what your dreams are?

Rubi: I think it's important just because that kind of, it’s kind of like supporting in a way, you know, like that just kind of makes me think like, oh, I actually have like a group of people around me that will support me and like can see my potential to actually achieving these dreams. And then that just kind of like reassures me that like there's like no limits to what I can do and that if I would like really want to do something, then I can just put my mind to it and actually do it.

JW: And you're doing something that no one in your family has done before.

RE: Yeah, that's right. I am a first generation student. And I'm hopefully going to be able to pay back all the sacrifices that my family has made for me just so that I can get a better education.

JW: Miss Hill Hall, when you listen to Rubi talk about her dreams and what this school is doing to empower her, how does that make you think about your position as a school leader differently? How does it influence how you lead in education?

KH: So of course I love hearing my...they're scholars, but they're still my babies always! So just seeing scholars blossom in this way and to find their voice and to share. I would like to think I know everything, but I don't. And so if we don't actively listen with our scholars and their caregivers, then we're missing the point. We're missing the opportunity to really create some authentic partnership and really make transformation education for our scholars. And so I love to hear that and I'm excited to hear all the things that Rubi is doing and sharing to really empower us as leaders and to empower me as a leader, but to also empower her and other scholars.

JW: And is that your dream for all of your students?

KH: Absolutely. I would love for all of my scholars to continue to find their voice and that we create a space where they feel comfortable to find that, to explore to even come up with challenges, to even push our thinking. Some of the things that we have created during our time here at U Prep has been because of scholars. And so we're only going to get better as an educational partnership if all stakeholders, and especially scholars, because that's who we are serving.

JW: Absolutely. Now, Rubi, how do you think you'll know when your dreams actually come true?

RE; I think they'll come true when I find myself being in a position in which I'm actually happy. Like, in which I'm actually happy with what I'm doing. Like I wake up and I'm looking forward to going to work. And I'm looking forward to helping the people out that, you know, just like the community. Like I'm looking forward to serving that community. And also even just like the financial stability, like knowing that I'll be able to provide for myself and for others. But I think that that happiness is just like the most important thing to me. I want to, like I said, just wake up and actually look forward to like a work day and just kind of like make something out of it, like actually be able to provide to people by doing the things that I want to do.

JW: And providing something like bakery items could be a very big benefit to our whole community!

RE: Yep, exactly.

JW: We definitely look forward to that. You're also part of our Student Leadership Community for Kent ISD, which is an opportunity for students to come together from all different schools and share their voices about important things that educators need to learn from our students. How do you think that opportunity helps you in making your dreams come true?

RE: Well, I'd say the biggest thing is that it's helped me find my voice. And it's made me more comfortable with sharing my voice because that's something I struggled with a lot before. I was just really quiet and sometimes I had ideas, but I never really had the courage to share them. So being in that leadership community has just definitely made me feel more comfortable with sharing my ideas and actually putting them into action because that's really the whole point of using your voice. You want to actually see action being taken so that you can actually start implementing everything that you want to change.

JW: And Ms. Hill-Hall, what would your dream be for Rubi and your other students?

KH: I think Rubi is an inspiration to what my dream is. I don't, we're not a place that we want scholars to leave off and just, if they know, they know and if they don't, they don't. But what the time here at U Prep, we just hope that they know that we're walking alongside them in this exploration of life, whether it's the post-secondary aspect, whether it's in the career pathway, but also the holistic approach about who they are. And so hearing her say that I want to find something where it makes me happy and I'm able to help serve people, that to me as a principal is a proud moment

JW: It's a very proud moment. We're proud of both of you and the work that you're doing and we really appreciate you taking time to share with us today.

KH & RE: Thank you so much.

JW: Thanks for having us here at Grand Rapids U Prep Academy. And thanks to everyone who's listening too. If you know a student of any age who dreams big, we would love to share their story. You can share your ideas and hear more dream stories at KentISD.org/YourDream. The Your Dream is Our Dream podcast is presented by Kent ISD in partnership with WGVU.

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