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by

Alison Krupnick

It’s 9:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and Dominique Daba is on the phone. She’s having the first of dozens of conversations she’ll have in the coming days with families anxious about applying to public school highly capable programs or to independent schools. Interspersed with the phone calls will be emails, reminding families which pieces of their application still need to be completed by the following week’s independent school deadline and workshops to help them craft essays describing their child’s strengths and challenges or apply for financial aid. When Ms. Daba, as she’s known by families, leaves her car at the K-8 Southshore parking lot and heads into the school, where the Rainier Scholars Academic Enrichment Program (AEP) conducts classes for fifth-graders, she’s swarmed by families with questions about what will happen next for their children.

For Rainier Scholars families, getting into our program is just the first step in the journey to college and career. After completing the rigorous 14-month AEP program, scholars apply to enter college preparatory pathways at public or private schools, a daunting experience. Daba serves as both guide and advocate, helping families decide which schools and programs to apply to, how to best present themselves and later, advocating on behalf of scholars with school admissions officers.

“My goal is to reduce, not add, stress for families,” she says. “I hope to give them the tools, information and support they need to feel empowered to make choices about their children’s education.” The vagaries of the online application process are challenging, even for highly educated native English speakers. Daba helps families navigate this tricky technology, making sure that each piece of the cumbersome application is uploaded to each school’s individual portal, as well as to the common application section.

“The application process was a huge task for us parents,” says Ammi Hernandez, mother of Cohort 19 scholar Erlis Piedramartell, who is applying for sixth grade college prep programs.

Have you ever had the nerve-racking experience of applying for something – school, a job, an internship – and wondering how to put your best foot forward? Wouldn’t you have appreciated a friendly and experienced guide to the process, who could reassure you that highlighting strengths is not bragging, and that your family’s unique personality is part of its appeal?

“By breaking things down, step-by-step, Ms. Daba made the process less tedious, less scary and less stressful for us,” says Hernández. “She gave us specific instructions on how to navigate the online application portal and was always there during workshops to help with anything we needed. She made sure there was a Spanish interpreter available. Having a calendar with deadlines helped us plan.  I especially liked when she brought in the Lakeside School financial aid director to thoroughly explain which factors are taken into consideration when granting financial aid.”

By the time application season is over, Dominique Daba reckons she will have provided over 100 hours of family workshops and tailored application support connecting Rainier Scholars to over 35 public school district and independent school partners.  The results are impressive.  Last year, 100 percent of our scholars were placed in college prep pathways at both public and independent schools.

A graduate of Brown University, where she majored in English and was the first in her family to attend a four-year college, Daba has served as Rainier Scholars’ Director of Placement for four years. Prior to that, she served briefly as Dean of Students, and as a high school Academic Counselor for nearly three years.  She learned about Rainier Scholars from her younger brother, who joined Cohort 3 when she was already in high school, her path to college sparked by a chance encounter. The Rainier Scholars mission resonated with her, as she reflected on the random circumstances that led her to apply to Brown and the challenges she faced as a student of color there.

Daba is a master of organization, with calendars and resource materials that help her ensure nothing falls through the cracks. She has the endearing habit of referring to students as “kiddos” and you can tell that she knows and appreciates them for who they are and who they are becoming. She sets high standards for herself, with the goal of continuous improvement, and keeps abreast of larger trends in both the public and private school realms. She regularly meets with public and private school staff, served 18 months of Seattle Public School’s Advanced Learned Task Force, attended the recent National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference and is now participating in a collaborative research project evaluating how community-based organizations use data to interact with school districts.

But in the end, it’s the difference she makes for families that especially stands out.

“Without the support of Rainier Scholars and Ms. Daba, I would have probably just given up,” says Hernandez. “I tried this process three years ago without any support and my children were not accepted into any schools. Thanks to the support I received with Erlis’ applications, the process went smoothly and was less stressful and achievable. We are done and hoping for good news.”