By Heather Murtagh
After her freshman year, Marisol Moreno realized she could have done better.
She found herself repeating classes instead of moving forward.
“I was thinking, ‘I could’ve done so much better. Am I going to be another dropout or am I going to change?” she said.
She chose the latter.
The 18-year-old from East Palo Alto will graduate from Summit Preparatory High School this spring after bringing her 1.27 grade point average up to a 3.0. She’s starting a new family tradition by heading to college in the fall. Growing up facing violence shaped Moreno’s goals to help better her community by studying criminal justice.
“Unshakable optimism and positivity in the face of adversity is what comes to mind when I think of Marisol,” said AP environmental science teacher Sarah Stapleton, adding Moreno is charismatic and a leader who has genuine concern for all those around her.
Moreno describes herself as outspoken when she was younger. At Hoover Elementary, Moreno played soccer in fourth grade and continued through eighth grade. In sixth grade, Moreno started playing basketball. She was a fan of the Warriors and wanted to give the sport a try. She stuck with the sport through eighth grade.
Moreno took Mexican Folkloric dance her last year at Hoover. Doing so gave Moreno a sense of pride for her culture. She continued Folkloric dance through her junior year.
She was a pretty good student, who was always polite while at Hoover. Going to Woodside High, however, was a struggle. She began hanging out with the wrong crowd and ditching classes. Moreno admitted she really stopped caring about her work and was disrespectful often to her parents. She was failing classes. It was disappointing to Moreno.
Moreno’s mom wanted her to attend a private school sophomore year. Instead, Moreno decided to apply to Summit. She had a friend who attended Summit, and thought it may be a fit.
Transferring worried Moreno at first since she thought her low grades would prohibit the move. Once she was in, Moreno worried about catching up in academics since she lacked the fundamentals in some of the courses. Thankfully, she felt accepted by the school community.
She stayed during office hours and worked with teachers who really encouraged her to begin thinking past graduation to college.
Aside from academics, Moreno joined the social committee junior year. She enjoyed the freedom given to students while organizing events. Her senior year, Moreno played basketball at school.
At the end of her sophomore year, Moreno worked with the East Palo Alto Police Department Explorer Program.
Moreno’s family moved to East Palo Alto a number of years ago. Prior to that, her stepbrother was killed two blocks from where she would soon live. He was shot many times. Moreno doesn’t know the details surrounding the event, but knew his life was taken. She had lost family for other reasons, but being crime-related made it different.
“I know what it feels like to have something taken away from you,” she said, adding she hopes to help mothers from experiencing the loss of a child.
Shortly after moving to East Palo Alto, two people were killed in front of Moreno’s new home. The event was nerve-racking for the little girl who noted a stray bullet could be fatal.
The experiences inspired Moreno to become involved in her community. Moreno went through a four-month cadet-like training through the Explorer Program. She goes on ride-a-longs and participates in drill training on Sundays. She also volunteers during community events.
“I really like to help people,” she said adding that she doesn’t live in the safest city, but feels like she’s doing her part to improve it.
This fall, Moreno will study criminal justice at California State University East Bay. She noted the support of her family and school gave her encouragement as she moves ahead.
“I can be anything in life,” she said. “[Knowing that] gives me the drive to do better, to be accomplished.”
Summit Preparatory High School graduation is 6 p.m. Friday, June 12 at Carrington Hall at Sequoia High School, 1201 Brewster Ave. in Redwood City.