May 2018 Student Spotlight: Wendy Vasquez

Welcome to the Next Step Alumni Spotlight! Every month throughout the school year we highlight a Next Step Alumni to check in and see how they are doing and what they’ve been up to since graduating from Next Step PCS.

For this month, we caught up with Wendy Vasquez. 

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Q. Where were you born? How did you hear about The Next Step PCS?

A. I was born in El Salvador. A friend told me about the ESL program offered at the Next Step.

Q. What attracted you to The Next Step PCS and how was your experience?

A. I was so desperately looking for a good school to learn English so when I heard the amazing feedback about The Next Step, I did not doubt it, and I enrolled .

My experience at Next Step is amazingly indescribable, as I always said Next Step for me was the bridge to the college life. I do not have enough words to describe how grateful I am with The Next Step and the staff that helped me to succeed in life, without them I would not be where I am now.

Q. In what language did you pass the GED?

A. I did not take the GED. I studied 3 years of Architecture in El Salvador so I  transferred my credits from the National University of El Salvador.

Q. Is English your primary language? If no, what is your primary language?

A. No, my primary language is Spanish.

Q. Did you take ESL courses? If so, where and for how long did you take ESL courses?

A. Yes, I did take ESL courses at The Next Step for 2 years

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Q. Did you ever feel frustrated during your time at The Next Step PCS?

A. Yes, a lot of times I felt frustrated. Being a full time worker and part time student is not easy, sometimes I was very tired after work that I did not want to go to school, but my desires to succeed were stronger than my frustrations.

Q. Who or what helped you pass the GED?

A. As I mentioned before I did not take the GED, but my big anchor to succeed in ESL program, and reach my goal to enroll in college was Vita Soto. She provided me stability and security, even in rough days. I will be always in debt with you Vita Soto, you are the best!

Q. Did you receive any scholarships?

A. Yes, I received the Ben Friedberg Scholarship from the Next Step. I was also awarded with the New Futures Scholarship, which I applied through The Next Step.

Q. What advice would you give to current students at The Next Step PCS?

A. To pursue your dreams and goals never give up it won't be easy, but definitely worth it. Also never allow anything or anyone to stop you, because people come and go, but your studies will always be with you, no matter what happens or where you are, your knowledge will always be there.

Q. What are you doing today?

A. I am currently studying my associates degree program in Graphic Design at the University of the District of Columbia – Community College. I will graduate from my associates this coming fall and I will transfer to the bachelor’s degree. I also work as photographer which is another thing that I love to do.

Q. What is the best part of your job or schooling?

A. The best part of my schooling is that I actually love doing art and being able to learn the different art programs such as Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc. is amazing. I am fascinated with all the incredible things that I can create. To me, being in the university is of course tired but fun, I enjoy every class and project because I love what I am doing.

Q. What are your future professional goals?

A. I plan on finish my bachelor degree as graphic designer but I also want to learn how to do web design and keep learning strategies on photography. My long term goal is to have my own photography/ graphic design company.

Q. What is your favorite thing to do when you are not working or in school?

A. My favorite thing to do is watch movies, play wii hahaha , or spend time with my friends and family.

Q. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

A. I am proud to have learned English and to have been able to not give up in the university despite so many obstacles.

Q. Any shoutouts and if so who?

A. I would like to thank TNS staff because they are always there to help, specially Vita Soto I would not be where I am without you and your commitment with the students, so thank you very much!!

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Q. What is your favorite quote or life motto?

A. Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. Lao Tzu

The Next Step Newsletter

Interview with Executive Director Dr. Jonathan Mathis

Conducted and Transcribed by Natalia Junchaya Diaz, Student

The Next Step PCS

March 2018



1.     What was your motivation for applying for the position of executive director of The Next Step?


I have always loved working in schools, and what is most important to me is creating conditions for the success of other people. I saw that The Next Step was interested in removing any obstacles or barriers to students in pursuit of education. That, to me, was probably one of the most important things that drew me to The Next Step. I learned a lot about the programs, the students, the goals and the accomplishments. All of that proved to me that this was my next step, to think about students’ success and college careers, and again—removing obstacles. The Next Step resembles a family. There is such a commitment to the success of everyone.


2.     Tell me a little bit more about your job here. What are your duties?


As the executive director, I report to the board directors of the school. These are individuals who are working to ensure the success of the school, the management of all the financial resources, the success of the staff and what is really described as compliance. To make sure we are doing what we say we do on behalf of students’ education, students’ achievements, students’ safety. On a typical day for me, I may have meetings off-site with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education or the Deputy Mayor for Education on behalf of those issues that are most important for students. Then, I may meet with other adult education charter school leaders to talk about best practices. I may spend time at local colleges or universities trying to figure out how they might support our success. But ultimately, I am happy to be part of the management team here and working closely with the principals, the student support staff, the operations team to make sure that everything that is happening here is conducive to supporting student success. But I also like to stop by the child development center and see the kids who are here, the children of our students. I also meet with funders—people outside of our school who might be interested in supporting us. So not a single day is the same, which is very exciting.


3.     What differences have you noticed between The Next Step and other places that you have worked?


The last two jobs that I had required me to travel, maybe three to four times a month. I was never in the office, and I had good relationships with my fellow staff members and colleagues but there was never the sense of family like there is here. So, that would be one of the major differences. In this role, I have such tremendous support and appreciation for every member of the community, whereas in other organizations I felt like there were people who were never really acknowledged for the great things that they did. So coming into a learning environment where people really care about each other and care about students and do whatever is necessary—that, to me, is so exciting. The other big difference is that we operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. four days a week. To see two teams of people come together and deliver a great educational experience is so refreshing. People are willing to go the extra mile to make sure the students are successful.


4.     What are some of the challenges we as a school are facing right now?  


I think across the city and around the country, we have to continuously think about not just the challenges within the building but what is happening outside of the building. So, when it comes to the safety of the school, the political climate around us—all those things are the external factors, the things that happen to the school just because we exist as a school. Any changes in budgets, any changes in funding from the government; we have to be aware of those things. But, challenges as a school, I think that we do a great job in identifying the resources necessary to help ensure that the students are successful. We know the challenges to help students accomplish their goals, that’s the challenge of all schools. But, I think we work towards that in a really intentional way, so I think we respond to the things that impact us outside of the school and how we have to think about all of the unique challenges that students bring with them to school. We are kind of in two worlds all the time.


5.     In a perfect world, what changes would you like to see happening at The Next Step over the next five years?


In a perfect world—and this is not really a change, it’s more of an outcome—I would love to see students like yourself come back and encourage other students, and be an example for them. You being an example could mean you went on and got a great job and pursued college or graduate degrees and you created opportunities for students who were here as a pay-it-forward. The more alumni come back and share their success stories, the more it confirms the hard work that we do every day. In addition to that, I would love for The Next Step to be able to continue strengthening college and career opportunities, so that we can help students to accomplish their biggest goals and dreams, and do whatever is necessary to provide exposure to their biggest goals and dreams while they’re with us now.


6.     Many of our students face a number of challenges in their personal lives. Have you ever struggled with something in your life? How did you overcome that?


I think we all have had struggles all throughout life. Part of my personal story, I come from a single-parent household where education was always very important and it was never a question about whether I was going to college. My mom always said, “Where are you going?” and “When are you leaving?” So, the day after I graduated from high school my mom was expecting me to go to college, to leave right then and there. So I went to college and I never could afford it so I had to figure out a way to pay for college and to do well. I worked two to three jobs while I was in college. It was just my mom who was able to support me but she couldn’t. We did not have money like that. There was a time when I almost got kicked out of school because I could not pay and I refused to give up. I refused to leave without my degree in hand. I understood that I had to advocate for myself, which is advice I would give to students. Find someone who is willing to be a champion for you, and share your story. I had to work hard to prove people wrong because there were some people who felt that I didn’t deserve the opportunities that I had because I couldn’t afford it, and that’s not a position that anybody should ever have to experience. I had great teachers and leaders who fought for me and now I am doing the same for others. I ended up graduating from college with a huge balance due on top of loans and they allowed me to finish my degree and now I give back to them. Now that I made it through school and I got two other degrees, I give back. So to me, the strategies would be: advocate for your needs, find good teachers and leaders who will help you to understand what to do, always give your best so that people will see that your work is excellent, because then they’ll fight for you too. And believe in yourself! Believe that you’re capable of doing anything. Sometimes, you just need to find the right person to be in your corner. Be willing to ask for help—that’s a hard thing.


7.     Who or what inspired you to achieve your educational goals?


My mother always said to me, “I want more for you than I had for myself.” When it comes from a mom, a dad, an uncle, a grandparent, whoever, it just pushes you in a way that nothing else can. So, when I graduated from high school, my mom was crying. And then, when I graduated from my Master’s, I did not go to graduation. My mom was so mad at me. When I graduated from my Ph.D. my mom and I were both crying. My shoulder was wet! She was fine until she saw me in the graduation regalia, the cap and gown. She said, “I am so proud of you, you always said that this is something you wanted to do and you did it.” My mom graduated from college but she went through a program for first generation college students. My great-grandfather was an immigrant. My grandmother ended up having twelve kids, and she was a housekeeper for a funeral home. Of my aunts and uncles, only a few went to college. So, when my mom got her bachelor’s degree, that for her was enough because she was first in the family to go. It was hard and she always told me “I want more for you. I want you to do more. I want you to be more.” Because of her sacrifice I am who I am today and that’s why I push so hard for other people.


8.     What are you passionate about?


Education! I have a goddaughter who is four years old. I look at her and I think about the next generation. In my office I have pictures of children at various points in their life. It just reminds me that I have to think about the next generation in everything that I do. So, education of the next generation. I am passionate about—outside of work—travel. I love arts and cultural events. This past fall, I went on a trip for about two weeks that left from California and went through Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, then back to Florida. Because I had not just given myself a chance to see the world in that way. I had traveled for work but not traveled to learn. I love time with my family, hosting brunch. I have a bunch of my friends over and then they won’t want to leave my place, stay all day, and so that family time is important, to have friends time is important. And I love New York City. I am passionate about going to see plays on Broadway, musicals, the arts as a whole.


9.     What are two fun facts about yourself?


I love cologne. I have probably about forty bottles of cologne at home, which is crazy because there are not even that many days in a week (laughs). So how do I get to wear all that cologne? I just collect cologne. I’ve been wearing cologne since I was in the fourth grade. Another fun fact that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I love couture fashion and I actually learned how to sew from a private sewing instructor. I just wanted to do something different because learning is important. So when you think red carpet events, how some people wear the craziest outfits? That kind of fashion.


10.  Finally, is there any advice you would like to give our Next Step students? Or an inspirational quote?


Some words of advice: Believe in yourself. Find a mentor. Write down your goals and work towards them every day. Don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And remember, I want more for you than I had for myself!


One of my favorite inspirational quotes: "Education is the only solid bridge you can rely on to transport you over your troubled waters. So, on that premise, I'll say to you: Use that bridge to get on the other side where you can stand up and be counted, thereby leaving your footsteps in the sand of time

April 2018 Staff Spotlight: LaShaun Franklin

By: College and Career Readiness Team 

Welcome to the Next Step Spotlight! Every month throughout the school year we highlight a Next Step Staff as well as alumni to share their experiences with education, and how both good and bad moments have guided them to success.

For this month’s Next Step Staff Spotlight, we interviewed ESL and Language Arts teacher, LaShaun Franklin. 

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Q: What is your name?

LaShaun Renee Franklin

Q: Where are you from?

Born in Washington, D.C.  I’ve lived in DC and MD my entire life.

Q. Did you encounter any challenges while attending high school/GED program? If so, can you describe what they were and how you overcame them?

Yes, I encountered challenges.  These weren’t academic challenges.  They were more social and societal in nature.  The late 80’s and early 90’s were a rough time in DC.  There was addiction, incarceration, and violence. I lost family and friends. I remember sitting in class and hearing gunshots then learning that a friend had been killed on the corner.  On two other separate occasions, I lost two separate friends that were both killed on their way to school. My father was addicted to drugs, in and out of jail, and absent from my life for long periods of time.  He was, eventually, encouraged to move to North Carolina with family to get clean. I didn’t see him for years until my high school graduation. I saw him for a weekend. The next time I saw him was in the hospital for a day six months later.  The next and last time was at his funeral two weeks after that. He had contracted AIDS as a result of his drug use and died from meningitis. My uncle was also addicted to drugs, also in and out of jail, and also absent from my life for long periods of time.  He’s been in recovery for over 10 years. My sister’s Godfather spent 10 years in jail for murder.

I had to overcome.  I had no choice. The only alternative was failure, and that wasn’t happening. I decided to overcome these challenges by being the best at school. It had been a competition from 3rd grade on. Each class was a race that I had to win, and I did. I loved it. So, here I am.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue a post-secondary education?

It felt like the most natural step to continue school after graduating. It was what I was supposed to do.  It was never a question. I was accepted to boarding school in Massachusetts for high school. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the financial aid.  So, I applied to the pre-engineering program at Dunbar. (25 years later, I’m still close to most of my classmates.) I applied to and was accepted at schools around the country.  I chose Maryland because they gave me a full ride and pay during the school year. Besides, I would be close to my family, and I wasn’t ready to leave yet. At least, I didn’t think I was.  

Pictured here is Ms. Franklin's graduation picture  - Grandmother (Del) - Grandmother (Frankie) - Step-Father (Rick) - LaShaun Franklin - Mother (Joy)

Pictured here is Ms. Franklin's graduation picture  - Grandmother (Del) - Grandmother (Frankie) - Step-Father (Rick) - LaShaun Franklin - Mother (Joy)

Q: Were you the first one in your family continue their education?

Yes, I am the first in my family to go to college and graduate.

Q: Where did you continue your post-secondary education? What did you study?

I graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School’s Pre-Engineering Program.  I entered the University of Maryland, College Park (#FEARTHETURTLE!!!!) as an Electrical Engineering major in the Honors Program.  I later changed my major to Information Technology. I didn’t see either as being anything I would want to do for the rest of my life.  I changed my major one final time, following my true desires, and graduated with a B.A in American Studies with a Primary Focus in English and an Interdisciplinary Focus in Law and Criminal Justice.

Q: How did you pay for your post-secondary education?

Entering college I received a scholarship from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). To secure this scholarship I was required to work for the agency. I would go to school and spend my summers working in Langley, VA.  After two years, I decided that this was not a career path I wanted to continue on, as I no longer desired a career in Electrical Engineering. This also meant that I would no longer work for the CIA or benefit from the scholarship.  To finish, I secured student loans and grants and grants.

Q. What was one of your biggest challenges while attending your post-secondary institution?

Entering my first semester in college I was exposed to all new experiences, and, at times, it was overwhelming. I did not have the privilege to have someone close to me tell me what to expect and guide me on the right path. I had to be responsible and monitor myself and keep my grades up and attend classes on time. I had to learn to prioritize class, school work, and relationships, which became challenging at times. I made many mistakes along the way, especially in the beginning. But, with support and maturity, I did it!

Q. Who or what motivated you to continue and get through your postsecondary education?

My motivation to push through was my mother, but my grandmothers provided motivation, as well. My grandmothers’ approval meant everything to me, and I was motivated to keep it. It was important for me to finish for them.

Q: Why did you decide to work in the education field?

My earliest memory of my interest to work in the education field was in 8th grade. I had an incredible science teacher, Dr. Virginia Weaver. She had such an effect on me and her students. As a class we talked about more than Science.  We talked about history, our history, Black History. I think she was radical in our eyes, even though we didn’t really know what that meant. I think our views of the world were shaped by hers. I kept in touch with her all throughout my college experience and so on. I remember her reaction when I told her I was working for the CIA.  “You working for the man”! HAHAHAHA!!!!!!!! She was phenomenal. I wanted to be a teacher just like her and to have the same effect on other kids that she had on us.

Growing up, I always worried about the welfare of children.  It has always pained me to see children in pain, physically and emotionally. I enjoyed being around youth which I enjoy being a teacher.  In 18 years, no two days have ever been the same. That’s exciting, and few can say that about their career.

Q: What is your current role at TNSPCS?

I am an ESL and ELA teacher, and I fill in where I’m needed.

Q: What advice would you give to students interested in continuing to post-secondary education?

I would say go...Go research schools.  Go research majors. Go research programs.   Go talk to people who have attended college, those who graduated and those who didn’t.  Go talk to people that decided not to go and ask, why? Go look at campuses, with family, with friends, alone.  You can receive advice from everyone but experience is important, it is important to know for yourself. So, just GO!

Q: Who do you admire and why?

I admire my sister Andrea.  She has four kids, and their relationship is amazing! There is such natural joy and laughter in that house.  I always have a good time when I’m there. My sister holds it down for her kids. SHE IS DOPE!

I also admire Dr. Marla Dean, Executive Director at Bright Beginnings. We worked together before at Cesar Chavez. She is one of those individuals that you know is genuine, means well, and loves their work. I have the utmost respect for her as a leader.

Q: What motivates you LaShaun?

Words motivate me.  I genuinely love words.  I love the nature of they sound, how they’re used, why they’re used, how they make the user and receiver react and feel...I love everything about words.  I LOVE that none of these things is the same for any two people. Words are verbal snowflakes.

Pictured is LaShaun and her mother, Joy

Pictured is LaShaun and her mother, Joy

Equity, Inclusion, and Undoing Bias at The Next Step Public Charter School

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In past years, The Next Step Public Charter School has become increasingly aware of how equity plays a part in how they approach their jobs and, as a result, educate their students.  One of the many things that makes this school unique is that their students and staff come from many different parts of the world, different cultures, backgrounds and identities.  Over 25 countries are represented and over 13 languages are spoken in their school building. The Next Step leadership team believes that whether others realize it or not, this impacts everyone’s work every day. In an effort to address this and open up the conversation regarding what it means to be equitable, inclusive and non-bias, The Next Step PCS has participated in extensive and ongoing training.


The how and what of the impact, as educators, is a topic that has been a priority but The Next Step PCS felt had not been addressed adequately. Brandi Shelton, Director of Student Support and Engagement at The Next Step believes that, “Culture is not just based on race but values, perceptions, belonging and ideals.  As a community, The Next Step believes that humans carry beliefs about people based on personal cultural lens.  If our role as educators is to not only to foster academic growth, but to also encourage social awareness, we have to first address our own personal assumptions and blind spots.”


This isn't easy work.  There are many layers to how differences and beliefs influence how people work with one another and the students they serve.  In the fall of 2015, The Next Step formed the Cultural Competency Committee. This consisted of staff members from both the day and evening programs who came together monthly to discuss these issues and to come up with ideas on how to increase equity and inclusion and undue bias at The Next Step.  The committee quickly learned that these trainings would be challenging and require a particular level of expertise.


The Next Step decided to work with a consultant by the name of Dr. Kamilah Majied.  Dr. Majied is an educator and researcher at Howard University, author, mental health therapist and internationally recognized expert on the impact of oppression on mental health and social functioning.  Her professional work focuses on racism, homophobia, heterosexism and other forms of social oppression with the goal of mitigating the effects of these on individual, familial organizational and community well-being.


At the launch of this training, members of the committee met with Dr. Majied and guided The Next Step in unpacking these issues and how to become allies to students -- all students. For several years, this work has been known as "cultural competency" but at its core it is professional development that more accurately focuses on equity, inclusion, and undoing bias.


This work has given teachers and staff the opportunity to grow functionality and connectedness to their role at the school. This training has been ongoing throughout the entire school year, with multiple sessions to give everyone the opportunity to consider their own diverse experiences and how these experiences inform interactions with students


Dr. Majied is very skilled in her ability to guide groups of people in dialogue about these matters in a way that is safe, respectful and authentic.  She has been working with The Next Step, on an ongoing basis, in a team-building manner that allows teachers and staff to look at bias, privilege, internalized oppression, etc. 


The Next Step PCS has embarked on this learning journey as a school community and while their diversity may at times present challenges, it is also a great source of their strength and beauty! The Next Step PCS’s mission is to provide students who have not been supported in traditional settings the opportunity to continue their education. The Next Step PCS serves students ages 16-24 and is committed to giving students what they need in order for them to achieve success.



March 2018 Alum Spotlight: Oportuna Irabaruta

Welcome to the Next Step Alumni Spotlight! Every month throughout the school year we highlight a Next Step Alumni that has received their GED to check in and see how they are doing and what they’ve been up to since graduating from Next Step PCS.

For this month, we caught up again with Oportuna Irabaruta who graduated from Next Step in 2016 with her GED. 


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Q. Where were you born? How did you hear about The Next Step PCS?

A. I was Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a town called Goma. I heard about The Next Step through my Social Worker.

 Q. What attracted you to The Next Step PCS and how was your experience?

A.When I visited The Next Step I found it really nice and welcoming.  I had a great experience with amazing teachers.

 Q. In what language did you pass the GED?

A. I passed my GED in English

 Q. Is English your primary language? If no, what is your primary language?

A. No, My primary language is Swahili

 Q. Did you take ESL courses? If so, where and for how long did you take ESL courses?

A.No I did not take any ESL courses

 Q. How long did it take you to pass the GED?

A. I was able to complete my GED in 18 long months.

 Q. What was your motivation to pass the GED?

A.My motivation for passing the GED was to be able to become Independent. Since I can remember I have always wanted to be Independent, I want to be able to do everything for myself and getting my GED was the first step towards that.

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 Q. What were the most difficult challenges you faced while at The Next Step PCS?

A.When I was at Next Step I really wanted to finish my GED as quickly as possible and one difficulty I had is the language as it is not my first language.

 Q. Who or what helped you pass the GED?

A.I had a lot of support in passing my GED, starting with my brother and my foster moms. My teachers at the Next Step helped me so much, they even stayed with me after school for extra help.

 Q. Did you receive any scholarships?

A. I applied to the the Ben Friedberg scholarship and was able to be selected as well as receiving The Mundo Scholarship.

 Q. What advice would you give to current students at The Next Step PCS?

A.To all the student take the advantage of the extra help teachers are able to provide because it helps when you are about to take your GED

Q. What are you doing today?

A.I am currently attending Montgomery college as a part time student while I also work.

 Q. What is the best part of your job or schooling?

A.The best part of my school is I get to learn new things every semester, I also meet new people every semester which is exciting.

Q. What are your future professional goals?

A.I would really love to work with children all over the world. I have been thinking of possibly starting my very own  non-profit organization

 Q. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

A.I never thought I would go to high school let alone be in college. I am grateful to have received my GED and now I am looking forward to graduating from college.

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 Q. Any shoutouts and if so who and what would you like to them?

A. I would like to say thank you to everyone who helped me get to where I am, I had a very huge support starting with my Brother Andre and My foster moms Dawn and Emily. Thanks to all my teachers for the support. Thank you for the time you were able to spend with me one on one to make sure I understood the material. Especially Ms. Jill, who not only helped me but also encourage me to sign up for a history class which has helped me so much in college. Also thanks to all the staff and faculty at the Next Step.