How This Valedictorian Learned Computer Programming Before College

Last June in her valedictorian speech, Jenny Mendez reminded her Ánimo Venice Charter High School peers that failure is a part of success and urged them to take a leap of faith to pursue their dreams. Now a freshman at the University of California Berkeley, she is thankful for the education she received at her alma mater. 

For Mendez, Ánimo Venice served as a launchpad for success. Her decision to pursue a career in STEM stemmed from a counselor who recognized Mendez’s impressive talent for mathematics, and innate tenacity. 

Fascinated with mathematics, Mendez intends to declare a major in computer science. Through a string of early community college courses she took in high school through dual enrollment and a local institution, Mendez is versed in several computer languages, including Java, Python, and C+. “For me, programming is like a foreign language: It’s a bit challenging, but it’s something I'm really passionate about,” Mendez said. “Mathematics is something that has been easy for me to understand—easier than English.”

Ultimately, Mendez plans to become a computer programmer and achieve her goal of helping her family buy a house.  

Attending Ánimo Venice

Mendez followed her two elder siblings in attending Ánimo Venice Charter High School. Here, Jessica Cervantes-Hernandez, a counselor at Ánimo Venice, immediately recognized Mendez’s aptitude for math and linked her to extracurricular activities and opportunities that could further challenge her skills. “Jenny applied to many programs and private colleges—she was an awesome candidate,” Cervantes-Hernandez said. “She’s not afraid of a challenge, she’s a go-getter.”

In the summer of Mendez’s sophomore year of high school, Cervantes-Hernandez shared a STEM course opportunity with Mendez. Through this program offered by Santa Monica College, Mendez enrolled in science- and math-based community college courses.  This opportunity exposed her to new possibilities, ignited new passions and ultimately changed the trajectory of her life.

After completing her summer courses, Mendez satiated her newfound fascination for computer science by enrolling in online courses at Santa Monica college during her junior year. Mendez also took advantage of in-person community college classes taught on her campus, provided by Ánimo Venice’s dual enrollment partnership with West Los Angeles College.

Looking back, Mendez is grateful for the dedication and care that her academic counselor put into her work with Animo Venice students. “Ms. Cervantes-Hernandez helped me narrow down factors I should have considered when applying, like financial aid packages, locations, weather, and school activities. She helped me make a list of my top choices, and helped me to understand why I chose those schools,” Mendez said. 

She believes that Ánimo Venice brought out the best in her personality and skills. “I had a chance to build relationships with teachers who eventually wrote my letter recommendations, and I got support from my counselors, where I learned of the programs and opportunities I needed to prepare for college,” Mendez added.

A Remote Experience

Though she attends UC Berkeley, Mendez has never physically been to the Bay Area campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and has only attended classes remotely so far. 

“It’s been quite difficult. I’m staying at home, and it’s hard to do school work without having a quiet environment, because I live in a small apartment with my parents. It’s tough to keep the motivation, but I always remind myself why I’m here, and what brought me here,” she said. 

Despite being remote, Mendez has built connections through inter-class mentorship opportunities offered through UC Berkeley. Mendez has formed a study group to support and connect with other Animo Venice alumni. 

While her schooling remains remote, Mendez is saving up money so she’s able to move when UC Berkeley’s campus reopens. She has also taken a job as an ambassador and math tutor for UC Berekely’s Summer Bridge—the same program she participated in as an incoming freshman. 

Green Dot Public Schools is dedicated to providing opportunities to all students. Through consistent academic counseling, dual enrollment programs, rigorous academic coursework, and college preparedness opportunities like Senior Bridge, our students graduate with the tools and opportunities they need to become successful in college, leadership, and life.