Story by: Sydney Gaines

“Being at Germanna makes me feel like I’m doing something to better my future,” says 17-year-old Alisson Rivas, Gladys P. Todd Academy student. “I’m doing this for me, but also for my parents.”

Alisson, born in El Salvador, remembers wanting to succeed in school from a very young age. With parents who never received the opportunity to further their education, Alisson felt pressure to make them proud. 

“I always sought after academic validation from my parents and teachers, so I did my best to maintain A’s and B’s,” says Alisson.

Alisson childhood photo
Alisson shown after her kindergarten promotion in El Salvador in 2012

When she was 8 years old, Alisson moved from El Salvador to the United States to live with her mother, who left their native country when Alisson was just a year old to pursue a brighter future for her children.

“My mother had to make the sacrifice of emigrating to the U.S. by herself to be able to provide for me,” Alisson says. As a single parent, her mom took on the responsibilities of both mom and dad, doing whatever was necessary to keep her family afloat. Once her mother was established and settled in the U.S., Alisson moved to live with her in Manassas, Virginia, where she enrolled in a local elementary school to finish out her second-grade year.

She began taking ESL classes to learn English writing and communication, and pretty soon, started to excel in the classroom. Throughout the rest of her elementary and middle school career, Alisson was a top student in her class.

“But when freshman year of high school started,” she says, “everything changed.” As a freshman during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, Alisson not only had to adjust to high school—she had to adjust to a completely remote learning experience.

“It was hard for me to stay on task because we learned everything through pre-recorded videos and Zoom calls. I tried my best, but I wasn’t an honor roll student that year.”

But once her sophomore year started, she grew accustomed to her new normal and started getting her grades back on track. “My second semester of sophomore year, I got all A’s. So, I was very proud of myself for that,” she says. 

When her grades started to turn around, Alisson’s school counselor recommended that she consider participating in Germanna’s Gladys P. Todd Academy, a program that prepares underrepresented students in Fredericksburg City and Spotsylvania County for college success and allows them to complete their transferable associate degree from Germanna while still in high school.

“My counselor explained to me what Gladys P. Todd Academy was, and she said that it was free to participate. So, I talked to my parents about it and explained how incredible of an opportunity it was. And since I’m the first one in my family to go to college, I really wanted to do it.”
Alisson Rivas
Gladys P. Todd Academy Student

So, she decided to go for it. 

Now, in her second year with the Gladys P. Todd Academy, Alisson says that since joining, her reading and writing skills have drastically improved, and she’s grown as a student. 

“GPTA has also taught me time management skills,” she says. “I’m able to juggle studying for my high school and Germanna classes, babysitting my siblings, and working part-time.”

As she heads into her last few months of being a GPTA student, Alisson says her favorite part about being a student at Germanna is the ability to tell her family that she’s a high school and college student at the same time.

“My family is always so impressed by that, and it makes me feel like all my hard work is paying off,” she says. 

Alisson family photo
Alisson (front left) pictured with her siblings, mom, and stepdad

Alisson also likes that she can be her true, authentic self in GPTA. “I’m not embarrassed to raise my hand in class or share my opinions.”

After graduation, Alisson will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University to pursue her bachelor’s degree, aspiring to be an ultrasound technician in the future. “After volunteering at the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center and shadowing in the ultrasound department, I knew that I wanted to pursue my education in that field,” she says.

“The Gladys P. Todd Academy has given me the confidence to create a successful future for myself. I want to be something. I want to be someone for my little siblings to look up to. I want to show my parents that moving our family from El Salvador was worth it. Making them proud and proving to myself that I can do it motivates me to keep going and to keep trying my best.”
Alisson Rivas
Gladys P. Todd Academy Student
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