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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.