Vanesa Perea, who enrolled at Excel Academy East Boston in the fifth grade and graduated from Excel Academy High School in June, will begin her studies at Harvard University as a member of the incoming Class of 2023.
Admission to the world’s most prestigious college culminated an eight-year journey of educational enrichment and academic achievement for high honor roll student Vanesa Perea at the Excel charter schools, whose mission is to prepare students to succeed in high school and college, apply their learning to solve relevant problems, and engage productively in their communities.
Perea, whose parents, Jose Perea and Luz Piedrahita, are originally from Colombia, was a shining example as a member of the first graduating class at Excel, which opened its new high school on Bremen Street in East Boston at the beginning of her sophomore year.
She attended the Kelly School in Chelsea through grade four before entering Excel in the fifth grade.
Many accomplishments and school activities at Excel
Excel does not select a class valedictorian or have an academic ranking system, but Vanesa’s achievements in all aspects of school life speak for themselves.
She had an outstanding grade point average and received a number of academic honors including the school’s Mathematics Award and National Honor Society Award. She was treasurer of the National Honor Society.
This year Vanesa took Advanced Placement courses in Chemistry, Physics, Calculus, Statistics, and Literature and Composition. Other AP courses were taken in Language and Composition, U.S. History, Biology, Spanish, and World History in her two prior academic years.
“I like STEM,” said Vanessa, explaining the concentration of courses in science and mathematics.
Vanesa also took her talents to the athletic fields where she competed in varsity soccer and served as team captain for two seasons. She was also a member of the Excel track team.
One of her most recognized accomplishments was founding the school newspaper, “The Howler,” and serving as editor of the publication. The school presented a graduation award named in honor of Vanesa and her classmate, Evelyn Rodriguez, the other co-founder of the newspaper. That award went to the newspaper’s founding duo.
She was the backstage director for the Music Club and served on the Student Council for two years.
Vanesa also volunteers as an English tutor for immigrants at a center in East Boston.
Receiving the acceptance letter from Harvard
Vanesa applied to Harvard in its Restrictive Early Action program. She received notification of her acceptance in December.
“December 13,” said Vanesa, recalling the day she learned that the next stop in her career would be in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I was very excited. I called my mom and I said, ‘Mom, I did it!’
She had enjoyed the positive learning experiences at the Crimson Summer Academy and the summer classes at Harvard she took last summer in Introduction to Biomedical Ethics and Expository Writing.
She is considering a major in Biology, Chemistry, Applied Mathematics and Economics at Harvard.
“I’m going to explore a little and see which field of study I really like so that I can end up doing something that I’m passionate about,” related Vanesa, who may pursue a pre-medical school path or a future career in consulting. She has received a full scholarship from Harvard.
Praise for her teachers and college counselor
Vanesa said she was grateful to the teachers at Excel, particularly her junior-year Mathematics teacher, Sarah Hafele.
“Ms. Hafele is a lot like me – I really love math and she shares that passion,” said Vanesa. “I like math tutoring so I asked her if I could tutor some of her math students. During my senior year we started a math tutoring, honors pre-calculus program which went really well. She’s a very kind person.”
Vanesa also credited Excel counselor Nicole Repp for her assistance and guidance in the college application process (Vanesa was also accepted in to the UMass/Amherst honors program).
“Ms. Repp began advising me in my junior year and working on essay preparation and she was very helpful,” said Vanesa.
This summer, Vanesa is teaching Mathematics at the Excel Academy summer program in Chelsea.
Support and encouragement from CSC member Kelly Garcia
One of Vanesa’s proud supporters at Excel is schoolteacher Kelly Garcia, a Latina member of the Chelsea School Committee (CSC).
“I heard Vanesa’s story and I wanted to let the people know – she’s from Chelsea and she makes us all proud,” said Garcia. “There are many obstacles against us, but she is one that is breaking all barriers and stereotypes and I want her to be celebrated and recognized in her beautiful city of Chelsea.”
Garcia said she hopes Vanesa’s success story as the daughter of immigrants “will inspire students to keep working hard and know that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”
Gratitude to her parents
Vanesa’s father, Jose, is a driver for a senior center while her mother, Luz, is a teaching assistant at an early childhood learning center.
“My parents have set a great example for me with their hard work,” said Vanesa. “They are my motivation.”
Another positive role model is her older brother, Jhonatan, a Chelsea High School graduate who just received his degree in Biology from Boston University. He works at the Boston Medical Center.
“Jhonatan set a very good example,” lauded Vanesa. “I never knew the extent of how good a role model he was until I went through my own college process and realized how incredible a school Boston University is. He accomplished it first and I want to be like him.”
Looking back at her career in the Excel system, Vanessa said, “I’m very happy I attended Excel. It’s been a great experience. The people at Excel inspired me to pursue my goals.” Chelsea Soldiers’ Home awarded $100 million to replace