Nico de Vries knows what it’s like to be without a voice. The Miami native has battled a stutter all his life, but it was that hurdle that ultimately drove him toward his purpose: educating young people.

A graduate of the University of Florida, de Vries earned a bachelor’s degree in physiology and a master’s degree in business administration. After graduation, his professional career began as a project manager and investment advisor with UBS Private Bank.

But de Vries was still searching for something more fulfilling, and then he heard about the Teach for America program.   

“I read an article about TFA, I applied and got in, quit my job, went through an intensive stuttering program in New York City that spring and joined TFA in the summer of 2010.

“The day I finished the stuttering program I packed my car and left to teach in New Orleans,” he said.

De Vries moved to Colorado after years as an educator with the Recovery School District in New Orleans and then at Democracy Prep Public Schools in New York City.

Today, he is head of schools at Atlas Preparatory School.

“My interest in education comes back to me being a stutterer. I did well in school but school was very difficult for me,” de Vries said. “On the outside I probably seemed fine. I did well with friends because of sports but didn’t believe in my voice or my ability to speak up. I didn’t speak in class. … I used my stutter as a crutch throughout school and avoided a lot of social interactions. … I think education for me is this belief in the power of a voice, both individual and collective. I’m still a stutterer and always will be, but [I’m] able to work with students, teachers and teams so that all of our students believe in the power of their voice.”

In his head of schools position, de Vries supports the high school and middle school principals and director of special services. He also oversees curriculum, instruction and teacher development, among other duties.

So what brings the educator fulfillment these days?

“It goes back to providing a voice for our students and our community,” he said. “The goal is so every family in Colorado Springs knows what an excellent education looks like, and they demand an excellent education for their child. The result is every student going to school in Colorado Springs believes in their own voice.”

And regarding being named a Rising Star, de Vries said, “I think it’s important for the work I’m doing and the work people are doing at Atlas. I think, to be part of a community of other professionals in Colorado Springs who are making our community better for all the citizens living here, I think being part of a group doing that is what’s most exciting.”

But de Vries is quick to share the acclaim.

“It’s the work that Atlas is doing more so than me,” he said. “I’m in Colorado Springs and still at Atlas because of the people I’m surrounded by on a daily basis. They’re the most amazing educators I’ve ever worked with and they inspire me on a daily basis.”