San Diego Union-Tribune, April 2024

San Diego Union-Tribune, April 2024

Someone San Diego Should Know: Xochitl Alvarez

San Diego Union-Tribune (April 2024)

Director at prep school knows firsthand about challenges young students face in education


It was college graduation day in 2015. Xochitl Alvarez sat in the audience with tears in her eyes.

“Jennifer was among our first graduates,” Alvarez said. “She came to our school not speaking English, worked extremely hard and became the first in her family to graduate college.”

Alvarez is a teacher and director of Graduate Support at Nativity Prep Academy, a private independent middle school and college access program for students from low-income families who would be first-generation college students. Its stated goal is to “break the cycle of generational poverty.”

Nativity Prep’s commitment extends beyond graduation from the middle school at eighth grade to mentoring and tutoring through high school and college, including college applications and career selections — an 11-year plus commitment.

The school, in Rolando, operates tuition-free with few and nominal activity fees from families. Scholarships are funded by private contributions as are all Nativity Prep’s expenses. It receives no government funding.

It is Catholic-based, but independent from the church and admits students of any religion.

With a capacity of 72 students, the middle school has an average of roughly 24 students per grade. These numbers are in addition to the hundreds of middle school graduates who are mentored and tutored through high school and college.

Students are expected to work hard. The school day begins 8 a.m. and ends 5 p.m. The school year averages 200 days.

“We have high expectations for our students. We do not reduce standards. We want our students to exceed standards,” Alvarez said.

Its methods show positive results. “Nativity Prep’s students are 5x more likely to graduate from college than other historically underserved students,” the school reports, noting that during the past six years 100 percent of eligible students attended college.

Some graduates have gone on to earn master’s degrees. Graduates’ careers are varied, including law, education, accounting, health and scientific research.

“It is very satisfying to help these students and watch them succeed,” Alvarez said. “We help guide them, but they have to do the work to get there.

“I see myself in many of them. “Students like me tend to have limited career choices because we don’t get exposed to many careers other than lower=paying jobs like cleaning houses or working in restaurants. Here, we open our students’ eyes to opportunities for different careers and college.”

Alvarez was born in 1980 and raised in Logan Heights. Her father worked in a factory and restaurant to support the family that included five daughters, Alvarez being the oldest.

Although neither parent had a college degree, they emphasized the importance of education at every opportunity. “Dad grew up wanting to be a doctor. He would say that we needed to attend college and become doctors,” Alvarez said.

“Mom would walk us a mile every Saturday to the library where we would attend programs and check out books.”

Her parents instilled in the girls the need to avoid trouble, something that was a challenge given the prevalence of gangs, violence and drugs in their neighborhood.

“I worked hard and stayed away from trouble,” Alvarez said. “Sure, I was mocked and called names like “nerd” and the “b” word, but I stuck with it, studied and received mostly A’s. I earned good grades by studying a lot. And I wanted to be the first in my family.”

She achieved her goal in 2002, graduating from UCSD with a degree in world literature. After graduation, she began teaching at Nativity Prep under an AmeriCorps program that enabled her to obtain teaching credentials and a master’s degree in leadership studies.

Today, Alvarez lives in Logan Heights with her husband of 15 years, David, and their two children, ages 10 and 14. David is a former San Diego City Council member and a current member of the state Assembly. He is also a first-generation college graduate, having been encouraged to apply by Xochitl while they were in high school.

As a Nativity Prep teacher and counselor, Alvarez maintains decade-long relationships with students she may have taught in middle school, sharing their “ups” and “downs.” She celebrates their college graduations with tears in her eyes brought on by personally understanding the challenges her students overcame.