When I joined IDEA Frontier as a founding teacher in 2006, I realized something was different.

We were a group of individuals devoted to setting high expectations and supporting for our students and their families, and ten years later this notion remains true.

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining IDEA Public Schools senior leadership, teachers, founding students, and community leaders at a luncheon as we honored their contributions and achievements and celebrated ten years of existence in Brownsville. This event was nostalgic and inspiring. As a sat at the luncheon, I reminisced about the founding of IDEA Public Schools in the Rio Grande Valley in 2000 and how the first school opened in Brownsville in 2006. Ten years? Time has flown by quickly.

I remember when IDEA Frontier Academy and College Prep were established in 2006, and classes were originally held at the Amigoland Mall. Yes; a mall.

Despite the setting and the humble beginnings, I knew then that I would dedicate my life to making sure all students, whatever their circumstances get a great education. A person with a college education earns, on average, one million dollars more over a lifetime, than someone without a college degree. That’s economic freedom.

At IDEA, three out of every five students are the first in their family to earn a college degree. That’s closing the equality gap. There has been no more rewarding career than changing lives of students and families through education.

A lot has changed for our Brownsville schools in ten years. The founding school in Brownsville is now located on South Dakota Avenue, and IDEA has opened additional schools in Brownsville, including IDEA Academy and College Prep Brownsville in 2012 and IDEA Riverview Academy and College Prep in 2015. IDEA schools in Brownsville currently serve over 3,500 students, we’ve grown to 31 schools in the Rio Grande Valley region, and have also expanded to Austin and San Antonio where we currently operate 20 schools.

From IDEA Frontier being ranked nationally on the Washington Post’s list of Most Challenging Schools in America, to IDEA Academy Brownsville receiving six out of six distinctions in the TEA Accountability Ratings Report, our Brownsville schools are accomplishing amazing things.

And ten years later, I am even more motivated and determined to help our students achieve. I believe that ALL students are full of potential. We have the power and responsibility to ensure that the students in our communities reach their potential.

The exciting thing is, this is just the beginning! We have so much more work to do for our students. Their future depends on it.

With new and continued growth, by 2022, IDEA will serve nearly 100,000 students across 173 schools! We are committed to responding to the demand for more high-performing public schools, making IDEA Public Schools the fastest-growing, highest-achieving charter school network in the country. Together, we now we can make a difference in the lives of countless kids in Texas and beyond.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this guest column shows Fatima Leal, who attended IDEA Brownsville College Preparatory. Her family moved from Matamoros, Mexico, to Brownsville when Fatima was in fifth grade. She has two sisters who also attend IDEA Brownsville. Fatima maintained an impressive GPA above 4.0 and frequently helped tutor other students.