Alumni Spotlight: Nicole Castro ’99

I was an A student at a catholic school in the Bronx, and my parents could see I wasn’t being challenged. At age 12, I wasn’t interested in being challenged or changing schools. I liked being one of the smartest kids in my class. However, going through the De La Salle Academy (DLSA) admissions process did make me feel like a rockstar. Seriously, what 12-year-old sits in a classroom for three hours taking an aptitude test in math and writing, and participates in a simulated classroom experience in an effort to qualify for admission to a middle school? Making it through those hurdles was exciting, and I was happy when I learned that I had been accepted to DLSA. However, being a DLSA student came with its share of challenges, and the truth is that I didn’t appreciate my experience while I was there. It wasn’t until later in life that I was able to see how my time at DLSA truly shaped all my future experiences.

My parents moved our family to New Jersey after I had been accepted to DLSA. My mom was so committed to my brother’s and my education that she commuted almost four hours round trip, five days a week for four years. The commute was grueling. I would wake up at 5am every morning to get ready for school, and most days, I wouldn’t make it home until after 7pm. That meant staying up way past bedtime to finish homework, almost no socializing on the weekend, and some days my best friend was my bed. Exhaustion also meant more arguments with mom during our car trips. I remember my mom threatening to throw me out of the car on the Henry Hudson Parkway because I was being especially opinionated that day. 

I met some of my best friends at DLSA, and what continues to amaze me is that I keep in touch with more people from middle school than from high school or college. My classmates and I were very ambitious and we all  pushed one another in a positive way. We learned to be creative, assess our strengths and weaknesses, and work together to help each other succeed. I fondly remember the pseudo families we created, where the older kids would choose one of their classmates as a partner, and we would then “adopt” our younger classmates as part of our family unit. It was similar to mentorship, but it was mostly about creating a community where we all felt like we belonged. 

Funny enough, some of my fondest memories were when I got into trouble. I used to attempt to do homework for math while I was in language arts. The thinking behind this was if I could get some work done before the school day was over, I could enjoy some downtime once I got home from school. Ms. Arcieri caught me in the act during one of her classes, and asked me to put my math homework away and bring my attention back to the lesson. After class, she pulled me aside and asked me why I had made that choice. That conversation sticks with me to this day because getting in trouble at DLSA wasn’t about punishment. Of course, we were always held accountable, but teachers like Ms. Arcieri were more concerned about the motivation behind the act. They didn’t assume you were just a bad kid. They left room for the why, and even now I try to give people grace before assuming the worst of them.

DLSA made me more prepared for the next chapters in my education. I looked at learning like an opportunity and a blessing. DLSA prepared me for the harsher side of education as well. It’s no secret that boarding schools lack diversity, and this was even more true in 1999. I had to learn how to adapt to a predominantly white environment, while still staying true to who I was, and within a boarding school climate that’s not easy. I went to a college in Virginia right out of high school, and transferred to CUNY City College two years later because I discovered that no matter how high-achieving an institution is touted, if a student does not receive adequate support from their peers and administration, it makes it very difficult to be successful. This subtle awareness of support systems and what makes something a good fit was all a result of what I had learned at DLSA. Middle school set me up to be a courageous young woman who chose to move back to New York and take authority over the future I desired. 

Being a student as DLSA does not promise you an easy road ahead, but DLSA taught what a real support system is, how to recognize genuine friendship, and why emotional, mental and spiritual maturity are so important in realizing your dreams later in life.  I can stand here today and share that DLSA prepared me to quit my job and start my own communications firm, to care for my mom while she battled ALS, and to get knocked down and stand right back up over and over and over. I didn’t appreciate DLSA when I was 13 and 14 years old, but as an adult woman who has overcome so many challenges in my life, I am forever grateful for the safety net that is DLSA. 

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