York City grad gets full-ride scholarship after moving to the U.S. from Dominican Republic

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
William Penn High School senior Omar Castro holds some of the certificates he's earned during his high school career at the school Monday, June 7, 2021. The immigrant from the Dominican Republic is graduating on Thursday, with a scholarship to York College. Bill Kalina photo

After starting high school not knowing any English, Omar Castro will graduate this week with a full-ride scholarship and a strong sense of community. 

Castro's family moved to York from the Dominican Republic in 2016 because his mother wanted a better life for herself and her family, he said. He enrolled at William Penn Senior High School and began learning English through York City School District's English Language Learners program. 

Castro spent hours after school every day of his freshman year translating his assignments from English to Spanish through the program. The first few years were challenging, he said. One of his first teachers had doubts he could pass their class without knowing English, but Castro pressed forward and passed his courses. 

Four years after starting the program, Castro is fluent enough in English to act as a translator for his mother, who still speaks Spanish exclusively. He graduates high school on Thursday and has a full-ride scholarship to York College through the college's Community Opportunity Scholarship Program.

More:Most York County schools plan traditional graduation ceremonies to end the year

More:COVID-19 pandemic leads to drops in enrollment at York-area colleges

Without the scholarship, Castro said he doubts he would have been able to afford a college education. He plans on studying business administration in hopes of eventually starting his own real estate agency in York. 

York City's English Language Learners program teaches students who speak a range of  languages, from Haitian to Japanese, according to one of Castro's teachers, Eric Mandell. The program provides resources for students to help them overcome language barriers or other cultural challenges, with the goal of the students ultimately transitioning out of the program. 

Mandell has worked with Castro for three years and said his evolution during that time was "magnificent." He said Castro has formed strong connections with his teachers, and Castro even said most of his closest friends are his teachers.

Setting an example: Castro's work ethic showed other students the benefit of making education a priority, Mandell said. 

"Omar has the ability to set an example," Mandell said. 

Mandell said Castro has a unique ability to learn from each opportunity he gets and use that knowledge for a bigger purpose. Castro spent much of his high school years participating in community service projects, and even received an award for his community service in 2019. This year, Castro organized his own community service project, cleaning up the York City area. 

In addition to community service projects, Castro also participated in leadership programs and held a job at Chick-fil-A, keeping his days busy. Mandell said Castro sets frequent alarms on his watch to keep track of his schedule. 

"I don't know what free time means," Castro said. 

Castro will start a new job as a teller at Fulton Bank next week, getting hired after he was interviewed for what was originally a scholarship opportunity.

Castro said he is anxious about what college life will look like, but he still plans to stay involved in the community. He said he is excited to try sports, as he hasn't had much of a chance to play sports in his life and only just got to try baseball for the first time a month ago. 

William Penn Senior High School's commencement ceremony is Thursday night at the York Expo Center.