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EPISD Student Spotlight: Johana Lara, Austin High

Johana Lara  Johana Lara

(AUSTIN HIGH SCHOOL -- Jan. 19, 2021) — The pandemic-related school closures didn’t stop Austin High senior Johana Lara from progressing on her academic and extracurricular goals, even adding some challenging tasks like teaching herself Korean during the time of isolation. And while her time in so-called quarantine was not without highlights (she was recently matched with Princeton University as one of six 2021 QuestBridge Scholars in EPISD), she longs to return to her side gig as a quinceañera choreographer soon. Commuity Engagement spoke with Johana about the challenges of learning during the pandemic and her hopes for the near future in this edition of the EPISD Student Spotlight.

EPISD: What does it mean for you to be a QuestBridge Scholar? 

JOHANA LARA: As a low-income student, attending college seemed very far out of reach when looking at the “price tag.” As my mother scraped up savings for college throughout my high school years, I gradually felt discouraged about applying to my dream schools- until I found QuestBridge. The QuestBridge National College Match has changed my life and relieved me and my family of the financial burden. Additionally, being a part of the QuestBridge community has allowed me to connect with graduates, students, and administration that provide insight and support with the college transition process.  

EPISD: What are your career goals and how will QuestBridge help you achieve them? 

JL: At a summer program I attended, a computer science professor introduced his projects on socially interactive robotics with autism, which opened up a new perspective for me on technology and its monumental role in society. I began to realize that I could positively change the world with what I love to do. In college, I’d like to study computer science and work with artificial intelligence. QuestBridge is, not only stepping stone for many low-income students, but a community filled with support from graduates and future peers from different backgrounds. That, in itself, feels like a dream come true.  

EPISD: How are you thriving in school during the pandemic? 

JL: The switch from going to school on campus to virtual learning was very sudden. As someone who struggles with retaining information, virtual school has led me to increase my self-studying hours by 1 or 2. I find myself asking my peers questions often and meeting a study buddy once or twice a week. I believe, especially during these times, perseverance is key.  

EPISD: How are you staying involved in school – especially extracurricular activities? 

JL: I am the captain of the dance team, community service chair on Student Council, and a member of the Academic Decathlon team. On the dance team, we choreograph, clean, and record performances to showcase virtually. As the Academic Decathlon competition date approaches, our group meets to discuss and study certain topics. With Student Council, we try out best to host safe events, such as donation drives, to help out our local Child Crisis Center. Being involved in these extra-curricular activities have been fun and rewarding during these tough times. 

EPISD: What advice can you give to succeeding with remote learning? 

JL: I found that taking care of my mental health and engaging in activities I enjoy can boost my mood and motivation. Remote learning is not a setback for students, but an opportunity to pace ourselves. I find myself getting up from my desk, going out on a run, then bathing. Afterwards, I get back to work feeling refreshed and inspired.  

EPISD: What are you doing to make the most of your senior year despite the pandemic? 

JL: I try my best to fill up my free time doing something productive or an activity I like. From redecorating and reorganizing my room to picking a song and creating a choreography- I don’t allow time to pass me by. I also try to reach out and virtually connect with friends and family as much possible.  

EPISD: What are your honors and achievements in high school?  

JL: I am in National Honor Society, a Questbridge Scholar, an El Paso Del Norte Lion’s Club Scholar, the Untamed Dance Team Captain, and, currently, number one in my graduating class.   

EPISD: Tell us about the community service projects that you are involved in and how you have continued through the pandemic? 

JL: One of my community-service projects with my school’s Student Council consisted of creating a suitcase drive for the Child Crisis Center. As per safety measures, we only accept new items and disinfect everything that is donate. My peers have created drives for this center as well. 

EPISD: What have you been doing outside of school activities to get through the pandemic?  

JL: As someone with an inquisitive nature, I started self-studying Korean in May. Since then, I bought two textbooks that I have worked on during my free time. In addition to that, I listen to Korean podcasts, watch YouTube videos on pronunciation, and study Hangul with flashcards.  

EPISD: What is the first thing you plan to do when the pandemic is over?  

JL: As soon as the pandemic is over, I’d like to continue my event choreography business that was put on pause. I started a choreography business my freshman year and have seen it thrive since then. Unfortunately, due to the current events, I had not been able to choreograph a Quinceañera or wedding since March. I always looked forward to working with my clients, seeing their choreography come together, and watching their finished product as they danced with confidence and joy. 


Interview by Reneé de Santos