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ASPIRA of Illinois – Leadership Through Education

Who We Are

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About Us

Our Vision
Is for all youth to have a seamless educational experience and be poised to make a difference anywhere in the world.

To empower the Puerto Rican and Latino community through advocacy and the education and leadership development of its youth.

Core Values
Student Focused
We are committed to elevating the self-esteem of all students through leadership development and fostering their personal growth by encouraging lifelong learning.

Cultural Heritage
We understand the value of all students appreciating and understanding their cultural heritage to build self-esteem and pave the way to academic excellence.

Service to the Community
We are committed to teaching students the value of improving the quality of life of others and learning to be compassionate and understanding.

We embrace all aspects of human diversity and value its necessity to ensure a vibrant learning environment.

We are committed to establishing partnerships with universities, the private sector, nonprofit, and community organizations that will enhance the student’s school experience and their leadership development.

Our History

Community activist Mirta Ramirez (1928-2018) established ASPIRA of Illinois in 1968 inspired by founder Dr. Antonia Pantoja, the first Latina recipient of the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom. Created to help students get into college, ASPIRA of Illinois has thrived and established a network of schools creating an educational pipeline that extends from middle school to high school and thru college. Today, schools select the teachers based on ASPIRA’s mission and teachers collaborate in developing the curriculum.

Since 1968, ASPIRA of Illinois has helped thousands of young men and women graduate from high school and get into college. We often hear about their successful careers and track record of civic engagement originating from their academic success, positive cultural identity, and leadership skills. We can share the pride in the contributions they have made.

ASPIRA was founded in New York City by Dr. Antonia Pantoja (1922-2004) in 1961 as a response to the failures of the educational system. The alarming high school student dropout rate and the failure to help students get into college sparked a movement that resulted in ASPIRA. Grounded in the belief of our youth’s potential and their right to an education, Dr. Antonia Pantoja developed an approach to addressing these problems that during this time was considered ground-breaking. She named it the ASPIRA process. A social worker and researcher, Pantoja believed the development of self-esteem was a precondition for academic excellence and it required the students understanding and appreciation for their cultural heritage.

The ASPIRA programs began working with the Puerto Rican youth in New York City and today it serves all students. ASPIRA of Illinois is one of seven in the United States and Puerto Rico. Together they form the ASPIRA Association based in Washington D.C., serving culturally diverse students throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.