Monday, September 14, 2015

Why Do I Want to Go to College? (A SoCal College Tour Reflection)

"Because knowledge is something worth investing in. Power and money can come and go just as fast. But knowledge is something that once you learn it, you won't forget it." - SMART Senior

The journey began this summer with 38 high school Scholars and 4 SMART staff members for a five-day college tour of Southern California.

Excited to begin the drive down to SoCal!

Scholars first started out at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. During this time, they had a chance to explore the beautiful campus during an interactive scavenger hunt. On the second day, they enjoyed an admission presentation and tour of UC Santa Barbara. They also had a chance to visit Cal Poly Pomona and Claremont McKenna. Afterwards, students and staff journeyed over to San Diego State, which was a very popular college choice for our Scholars! They deeply enjoyed the diversity present at this location. They had the opportunity to talk to an admissions officer from USD and learned all about the application process, financial aid opportunities, research, and everything else the campus had to offer. Afterwards, they drove straight to UC Irvine for the last college tour. On this tour, Scholars learned that 50% of their admitted class of 2019 is first-gen!

Claremont McKenna

Enjoying diversity at USD

At the beginning of the tour, students were concerned about not being able to pay for the right college, letting their parents down, and leaving home. During this transformational experience, they learned about the challenges that can make attaining a college degree difficult for a first-generation student, but they were also given some time to reflect on the concerns they had.

Some reflections included the following:
  • "I learned that I am not alone in going through the struggle of being a first-gen student. I'm not the only one who is scared or who worries about their future."
  • "I learned that the odds are stacked against me, but I won't let that hold me back. I want to go to college because I can make a difference for myself and my community."
  • "I learned that I have the skills and strengths to be college-worthy and that I won't have to do it alone. I have many resources that I can take advantage of and SMART will be there to help me."
At the end of the tour, students left feeling empowered and strengthened by the belief that they have the resources and ability to pursue their dreams of higher education.

Below are three paragraphs from a reflection by Xio Grande Meza after the tour:

Personally, I can not speak as a first-gen college student. I can, however, speak as a lower-middle-class Latina student. To me, it means not always being given what you want and sometimes need. To me, it means I will always have to prove myself, to go beyond what is expected of me. It means I will have to work hard for things other people take for granted. I will have to go through struggles that not everyone faces, but I know that's okay because it will only make me stronger...
...After this college tour, I feel ready to take on junior year. I had lost my motivation sophomore year and have been waiting for the realization to hit me that school is important. After this tour, I have found that motivation. I want to be someone who all of a sudden is a "do-er", someone who has a voice at school and is involved with things, someone who is passionate, and disregards what friends might think. I am not going to let schoolmates hold me back or treat me like I'm not good enough. I am nervous but excited for this year to start!
...I want to go to college because whenever we go to a university that I like, I start smiling about the possibilities. I want to go to college because I want to further my education and be a role model for other young girls of color. I want to make my grandparents proud.

Summer at SMART

This summer, our Scholars maximized their learning time by participating in rigorous academic programming four days a week and science-based field trips every Friday. Here's a recap of everything we've accomplished!

Scholars excited to be at Summer Program
This June and July, our Academic Summer Enrichment Program for rising 5th and 6th graders continued to expand to include 74 students at Mission Dolores Academy. We served 43 rising 5th graders: all of them applicants to SMART, allowing us to assess their fit for our programming while providing academic support. There were also 31 students in the rising 6th grade class, most of whom will begin their middle school experience at one of our partner schools in the fall. Students participated in math, English Language Arts, science, and history curriculum Mondays to Thursdays. On Fridays, they looked forward to exploring the Bay Area on science and environmentally-focused field trips (including excursions to the California Academy of Sciences and even to a laboratory at the University of Berkeley).

Students were divided into five classrooms, each with a credentialed teacher and a SMART staff member. Teachers joined us from Marin County Day School, The Hamlin School, Katherine Delmar Burke School, and various Bay Area public school classrooms. We were lucky to have such a stellar teaching staff - thank you for sharing your teachers with us! Some of our own SMART high school students also served as interns and elective teachers.

Tiffany on her first day of Barnard
SMART also provides services to help high school Scholars locate summer internships or learning experiences to further accelerate academic development and foster career skills necessary to make the transition to college. Tiffany, a rising senior, received a scholarship through Wishbone to participate in Entrepreneurs-in-Training. This was a 11-day program at Barnard College that focuses on developing business skills in high school girls. Tiffany worked on developing her own venture, building public speaking skills, and learned other facets of becoming a successful entrepreneur. Another scholar, Linda, participated in a pre-college course at Brown University focused on "Evil: The History of an Idea". This once-in-a-lifetime experience provided her with a deeper understanding of ethics, social class, and persecution in history, and developed skills necessary for analytical college humanities courses.