As Metro Nashville Public Schools gets set to graduate more than 4,500 seniors this school year, a special celebration will take place for a family who had big dreams and achieved them through MNPS at Whites Creek High School.
When two immigrant parents relocated their twin boys, Aaron and Uriel Espinoza Moreno, from Mexico to the United States during third grade, they were in pursuit of a better life and opportunities in Nashville. It would be safe to say the twins have made the most of their opportunities and are on the path to great success, with Aaron graduating as the salutatorian of Whites Creek’s Class of ’23 and Uriel ranking fourth in the class – and both of them earning full-ride Bell Tower Scholarships to Belmont University.
“Our parents brought us here for a better situation, so we had to build on the foundation they gave us,” said Aaron. “That’s why we focus so hard.”
Although both students excelled academically through most of their educational careers, migrating from another country came with its share of social and academic challenges. The twins both agree that after they entered the English Learners program at Joelton Elementary School in third grade, the next two years proved to be their most challenging years.
“School wasn’t necessarily a priority for us in Mexico, so when we moved here, we really had to focus hard on learning,” Uriel said. “Moving from Mexico was a big reset for us because we didn’t have any friends and we didn’t speak much English, so we started focusing more on school.”
Aaron, the less vocal of the twins, recognized that as they began to move through Joelton Middle School, they started to excel academically around the fifth and sixth grades. They credit their academic success to the MNPS EL program and their EL teachers.
“Our EL teachers told us we were smart, and we could have a lot of opportunities,” Uriel added.
As the brothers progressed through the middle school EL program, they figured out the formula for their academic success. It was not the work they needed to tackle first, but the English language itself. Once they mastered the language, they could understand the academic components. Uriel, who has contemplated becoming an interpreter, has been able to share this same wisdom with incoming EL students at Whites Creek.
As young children, the boys were brought to America with health challenges and quickly recognized the realities of language barriers, especially in the healthcare space. As a result, the twins are dedicated to serving in roles that help individuals overcome such challenges.
“We had to go to the doctor to have constant check-ups. I saw how important it is to be able to communicate your health issues,” Uriel said.
Student Government, Playing Music and Starting Soccer Teams
These scholars, who are a part of Whites Creek’s Academy of Alternative Energy, Community Health & Law with a pathway of Alternative Energy and Sustainability, not only focused on academics while in school but also were determined to maximize the social aspect of their lives as well.
The Advanced Placement students became active in music, clubs and sports. They are members of the Student Government Association, with Aaron serving as SGA president during his junior year. Both have been Student Ambassadors since freshman year, and they are active members of the Future Farmers of America Club at Whites Creek.
Both started playing instruments in middle school. Aaron tried his hand at the mellophone, and they both played the trumpet because it reminded them of their Mexican culture.
The future educators also were instrumental in starting soccer programs at Joelton Middle and Whites Creek.
“It was something that connected us back to our roots,” said Aaron. “We have been able to develop lasting friendships as a result.”
They said establishing the soccer teams took some convincing of other students to participate, but with more than 25 Cobra student-athletes now, the twins are confident the program will continue to be a success.
Credit to Their Teachers and Parents
Aaron and Uriel, who also work part-time as servers at a restaurant, acknowledge that their teachers pushed them to move outside of their comfort zones and, through their guidance and support, played a major role in the twins’ success story. They are the main reason both boys want to become teachers.
Aaron said he loves to read books, and spending time in the school library with library media specialist Kearea Brady is where he felt most comfortable.
“Ms. Brady would let me hang out there, read books and come there to complete my work when I felt like I couldn’t focus in the classroom.”
Uriel also has a favorite teacher: Jacquelyn Veith, CTE agriculture teacher at Whites Creek.
“Ms. Veith is someone I look up to. She makes this more than a job because she even worked with us during the summer. She helped me get involved with the agriculture and sustainability program,” he said. “I credit that with helping me get my Belmont scholarship.”
Uriel wants to become an EL teacher, and Aaron is considering becoming a math or science teacher. Both want to work in schools with a high Hispanic population or a Spanish immersion model.
“The role my teachers played with me as a non-English speaker was a big help to me,” Uriel said. “I want to give back to students in the same situation.”
Brady says the students’ desire to become teachers exemplifies a true act of service.
“The Espinoza brothers are the true epitome of perseverance and determination,” she said. “To get to the place where they are now, they had to adjust on so many levels, especially in the areas of language and culture, and to still rise to the level at which they have academically is very inspiring. I am ecstatic to have the chance to see where these two will go. Their future is very bright.”
“Aaron and Uriel are two determined young men who refused to allow any obstacles or barriers to get in the way of their success,” White Creek Executive Principal Brian Mells said. “These young men are the life of the senior class and are guaranteed to brighten up the day of their fellow students, teachers and administrators.”
Aaron and Uriel, who often agree with each other, both credit their parents with removing them from an environment where they were skipping school and getting into mischief as early as the third grade. They are grateful their mother and father provided them with a fresh start and a solid foundation to build successful educations and careers.
And the twins said they are ecstatic that their father said to them some of the sweetest words a child can hear: “I’m proud of you.”
Class of 2023 Graduations
Class of 2023 graduation schedules can be found on the MNPS seniors page, along with information on ceremony livestreaming.