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Low-income students fulfill dreams of going to college

Milagros Gomez
Written by Milagros Gomez

For high school students Martin Flores and twin sisters Mia and Leah López Bazán, college did not always seem like a possibility. But with guidance from a pre-college program, Academic Talent Search (ATS), these three Latino students will soon be attending some of the state’s top universities.

Martin’s parents immigrated from Guatemala, while Mia and Leah’s family came from Mexico. Seeing their parents make many sacrifices since migrating to the United States has been as a source of motivation for the three students as they plan college careers.

For Flores, 18, going to college has always been one of his goals. Not only does he aspire to improve his own future by pursuing education, but he wants to be a role model for other Latino students and make his family proud.

“I’ve seen [my parents] struggle,” Flores said. “They’ve had to do ridiculous jobs just to put food on our table. Not only do I want to prove to them that they made the right choice in coming [to the U.S.], but I want to prove to myself that it was worth it, and that if they can do those jobs, I can go to school and get a degree.”

Leah, 17, described the program’s positive reinforcements as having pushed her to complete her education despite teachers not believing in her.

“Back in elementary school, none of my teachers really had faith in me and I felt like I had no dreams for myself to even go to college,” said Leah, recalling her early years in school.

Leah said ATS provided the push both she and Mia needed to go beyond their own expectations in school, even as they both felt like minorities in the classroom.

“I want to let other first-generation students know that they should be proud of being in Advanced Placement classes, even if they don’t see anyone that looks like them,” Mia said. “At times I’ve also asked myself, ‘Just because I don’t see anyone of my color and the rest of the Latinx students are in regular classes, does that mean that’s where I am supposed to be?’ No.”

Susan Wandling, ATS program director, said the program provides students with one-on-one attention and guides them toward success in higher education.

“(Martin, Leah and Mia) are excellent TRIO ambassadors!” Wandling said. “Not every student begins their education with the same resources. ATS outreach advisers motivate and empower students to overcome barriers which could prevent them from attending the college or university of their choice upon graduation from high school.”

As Wandling explains, ATS provides students with program resources, such as individual advising, college readiness workshops, college visits, and financial aid information that can be essential.

Based on personal experience, Flores described the pre-college program as a source of empowerment that offers students the chance to narrow their focus as they transition into college.

“[ATS] has prepared me,” Flores said, as he contemplates his last days as a student at Rancho Cotate High School before attending UC San Diego. “They’ve helped me understand the college process and it’s opened up my eyes to what I like in a college campus and where I should head.”

Flores said he feels well-equipped to pursue the career of his dreams: computer engineering at a technology leader like Google or Apple.

“I started getting As and Bs once I went into this program.” Mia said. “They were able to help me understand that I am capable of going to college. They helped me realize that it doesn’t matter what the color of my skin is or what my background is, as long as I put in the hard work and as long as I am determined to go, I can go to college.”

Mia and Leah, students at Sonoma Valley High School, said they look forward to starting a new chapter as they prepare to attend Saint Mary’s College of California and UC Merced, respectively, venturing into veterinary medicine with aspirations to one day open their own local veterinary clinic and kennel. They want their animal clinic to be accessible to low-income community.

“ATS definitely motivated me even more to go to college because I wasn’t in the right mindset in school,” Leah said. “I could honestly not see myself going to college, but (ATS) was there to support me and make sure I kept on track, made sure I passed my classes.”

Versión en español.

Noticias y eventos desde la región vinícola del norte de California para la comunidad latina.

Posted by La Prensa Sonoma on Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Contacte al editor de La Prensa Sonoma, Ricardo Ibarra, en el teléfono: 707-526-8501. O en el correo electrónico: ricardo.ibarra@pressdemocrat.com. En Twitter @ricardibarra.

 

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