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Meet Luis Liriano, Springfield Renaissance Senior

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    April Hattori

As soon as students walk through the doors of the Springfield Renaissance School in Springfield, MA, their education has a different focus. For the first time in their schooling, character and courage are joined to academic success. When Luis Liriano started at the school in 6th grade, he encountered the school’s seven character traits: courage, respect, responsibility, friendship, cultural sensitivity, perseverance, and self-discipline. Courage has been a prevailing theme of his experience. 

In reflecting on these traits, Luis summarized his six years of learning at Springfield Renaissance. “I have the courage to confront my fears in anything I do. I never accomplished a high school sport, but in 10th grade, I did it. Self discipline: in 6th grade, I liked to talk. I was shy but I was goofy and talked a lot. As time went by, I don’t talk as much. I focus on my education. Responsibility: I do everything to meet my deadlines. Perseverance: no matter how hard the challenge, I keep going. At times, it’s going to be really hard and you think  ‘I can’t do it.’  But take your time. By the time you realize it, the challenge will be done,” he said.

Academically, having the courage to strive to be better was a challenge when he first arrived at Renaissance.  “When I got here in 6th grade, I learned that you can revise your test grade. This was new to me. If I got a 2.5 on a test and wanted to get a better grade, I could stay after school and show my teacher that I know how to get the answer. Revising was hard, but I did it.”

With college in his sights, Luis takes honors classes, serves as a Renaissance Ambassador, and mentors younger students. He plans to apply to Westfield State University in Westfield, Massachusetts and John Jay College in New York City to study criminal justice.

Luis also mustered courage to lose weight and overcome his fears about sports. “When I came to this school in 6th grade, I was always mad at myself and sad that I was the biggest one in the classroom. I couldn’t be with everyone in gym class and couldn’t run with everyone. But it all changed, from being like that to losing all this weight. That was my goal and I accomplished that goal. I’m still accomplishing it,” Luis said.

At the start of Luis’ sophomore year, his principal, Dr. Stephen Mahoney, announced that the school would be piloting a new kind of sophomore passage, the crew-based performance assessment during which a student “defended” his or her readiness to move on to the 11th grade and become an upperclassman. The new passage would include significant service and fitness challenges.

For Luis, the fitness challenge would be the most difficult. He had never participated in a team sport and had fought with weight issues. But he knew that the Sophomore Passage was his opportunity to start anew. He committed to joining the swim team, perhaps the most physically demanding of all sports.

“I was scared of swimming and I didn’t have the best body. When the swimming season started, being so big and swimming back and forth, I’d get tired. It was hard. But at the end of the season, I lost 60 pounds. That was the hardest challenge of my whole life. It changed me. It made me want to play baseball. Now I’m more active and liking it,” he said.

Luis credits Renaissance for helping him gain the courage to become a better student and person. “Today I can look at the mirror, see my reflection, and say who am I as a person. When I came here in 6th grade I couldn’t tell you that because I never had a school like this. This school changed me all around.”

This story originally appeared in the National Conference newsletter Signpost in October.