When she isn’t hard at work, concentrating on earning straight As, Karla Hernandez is likely to have a broad smile on her face. Her cheerful and willing nature, as well as her extraordinary academic achievement, belie the unsympathetic realities Karla has faced in her life.

Karla is from Veracruz, Mexico, where she lived until just four years ago with her brothers and grandmother. When Karla’s abuela died suddenly, she and her brothers made the trip north to be with their mother, who lives in Denver.

When Karla entered sixth grade at Lake Middle School, she spoke no English and the cultural differences were overwhelming.

“I felt totally lost when I first arrived at school,” Karla says. “But coming to the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center after school helped the school feel smaller. I made friends and started learning English and understanding more of the culture in my new country.”