What a Difference a School Makes

school difference

By Isela Castro, Green Dot Public Schools Parent

From the moment I walked onto the Oscar de la Hoya Ánimo Charter High School (ODLH) campus, I knew I had found some place different. I felt comfortable, and even before my son started school there, the educators were welcoming of him and his needs. My son, Niko, is a junior at ODLH in Boyle Heights.

I chose to send Niko to a Green Dot school for many reasons. Niko has autism and a language disorder, so finding the right high school for him was very important to me. I wanted him to be at a school where the environment was accepting and supportive. I found that at ODLH.

Before ODLH

While Niko was in 8th grade, I started calling our neighborhood high school. I wanted to get a feel for the school, and I wanted to speak to an administrator regarding their special education services. I called the school several times, but I got no response. So I went down to the school to try and talk to someone in person, but I was told I needed to make an appointment. Frustrated by what I had experienced, I started to look elsewhere. I called and toured different schools in the area and each time I walked away with an uneasy feeling.

Then one day a friend told me about ODLH. She told me how amazing it was, and how her family even moved to East LA in order to be closer to the school! Days later, on her recommendation, I filled out a lottery interest form and months later, I received a letter stating that Niko was thirty-fifth on the waiting list. I was disappointed but remained hopeful. And it’s a good thing I was, because Niko was eventually accepted!

A personal touch

Shortly after Niko’s acceptance, I went down to the school to fill out enrollment paperwork. After my other negative experiences, I was leery of what I would find, despite my friend’s praises. The office staff was very friendly, and within a few minutes, I was already speaking with the Principal, Ms. Ybarra, and she wanted to know all about Niko. She wanted to know who he was, his likes, dislikes, needs and strengths.

Niko wasn’t even a student yet and the Principal and special education teacher went out of their way to welcome us.

That’s how it is at ODLH. Our experience has been nothing but positive. The teachers, staff, and administrators are dedicated and supportive, making the learning environment feel like a family.


Services for Special Education


Niko’s experiences at school have been outstanding as well. We’ve been blessed that his special education teacher, Ms. Delgado, has been a mentor and consistent base of support for him as he navigates the complicated world of high school, adolescence, and academic achievement. Ms. Delgado always makes time for her students. Whether it’s during her lunch break or after school, she goes out of her way to ensure that all of her students succeed. If Niko stresses about testing or projects, she knows exactly how to talk to him and calm him down because she’s taken the time to really understand him.

Today, Niko is thriving and able to envision an independent and successful future. This year he made the honor roll and is enjoying playing on the school’s baseball team. Every parent wants their children to grow up equipped to be successful adults; go to college prepared and achieve their dreams – because ODLH welcomed Niko and supports him with the necessary tools and practices for his academic success, I know—and he knows—that the future remains filled with possibility for him. There is no greater gift a parent can receive.

Engaged parents

Green Dot’s family feeling goes beyond its classrooms and campuses. Their emphasis on parent engagement is another reason I love Green Dot. United Parents is a parent-driven movement that works to support our students outside the classroom, and to bring about change in our communities.

Since Niko was in preschool I’ve been involved in his classrooms, school site councils, and various other activities. So it was only natural that I join United Parents, and I have since become a parent leader.


One of the most rewarding United Parents experiences I’ve had was speaking on behalf of the Raise the Wage campaign. I’m proud to have been part of the campaign that got the minimum wage raised here in Los Angeles and am so pleased that California has followed our lead.

I am thankful every day when I drop Niko off at school that he is safe and getting a great education. I am thankful for Green Dot’s support, dedication and commitment to prepare students for college, leadership and life. And their support of parents not only empowers us, but also helps us change our communities.

That’s the difference a school can make.

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