Amaya Jiminez, a senior at BelovED Charter School on Grand Street, has been offered a full undergraduate scholarship to Princeton University. The first member of her family to attend college, Jiminez is also a ringing endorsement for BelovED itself, which this year is graduating its first twelth-grade class.

Jiminez credits her family for instilling in her a drive to succeed academically.

 “There was a big push to focus on school,” the seventeen-year-old senior said, “and to get into a college, they said I would need a scholarship. That resonated with me…. I was focused on being determined and to take that burden off my family.”

Jiminez and her family are not the only ones who’ve been cheering her success.

“I’ve known her for the past two years,” Beloved counselor Batista said. By the end of Jiminez’s junior year, she was first in her class, noted Batista. “She’s one of the smartest students I’ve met.”

Jiminez earned membership in the National Honor Society, has taken numerous Advanced Placement courses, and has notched a litany of extra-curricular achievements: president of the BelovED Student Council, member of the Senior Class Planning Committee, volunteer tree planter with the New Jersey Tree Foundation, and a volunteer at the York Street Project, a transitional family shelter in Jersey City.

She is also invested in seeing her friends succeed. “A lot of my friends struggle with organization,” she said, “so I make them schedules, for example, so they can keep track of what they have to do.”

Jiminez draws inspiration from women like Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who, she said “showed it was possible to be a Latina who comes from an impoverished family and have great success.” (Jiminez grew up in public housing in Bergen-Lafayette.)

Comparing Princeton’s architecture to Hogwarts from Harry Potter, Jiminez said her impression of the school, which she visited for an interview, left her wondrous if a bit unmoored. “All the buildings, big and beautiful — it was like experiencing culture shock,” she said.

She may major in psychology because, she said, “I feel people aren’t getting sufficient care, and I want to contribute something more, especially when it comes to younger people.”

BelovED Charter School is also embarking on a new phase. The school, which now runs from kindergarten through high school, is planning to open a new high school campus in partnership with Empowerment Academy at a site “close to Liberty State Park” in 2025.

According to Batista, BelovED’s enrollment now stands at 1,550 with about 130 teaching staff. Amaya enrolled at BelovED in grade 5.  

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Jiminez is eighteen years old.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...