New program to help first-gen students prepare for and navigate college


Step by step, about 35 rising tenth-graders walked across the Golden Gate bridge on Aug. 4. For some, it was the first time they'd walked beneath the iconic red beams connecting San Francisco to the North Bay.

The walk was intended to help students reflect on the journey they will take over the next seven years as they strive to complete high school and then college, said program manager Esmeralda Ortiz.

The students are the first to be enrolled in "Future Grads," a pilot program run through the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula intended to help less-advantaged students not just get into, but finish college.

According to program manager Esmeralda Ortiz, the program is modeled after a program in Pomona, CA, that leads 91 percent of its high school participants to graduate from college. Those students have similar demographics and backgrounds to those who have enrolled in her pilot program on the Peninsula, Ms. Ortiz said, and many are first-generation students of color.

The program is intended to help local teens beat statistics indicating that students who are the first in their families to go to college drop out at higher rates than their counterparts.

Over the week-long program at Menlo School, students learned what they should do to prepare to get into college, such as select college preparatory courses and establish strong networks with teachers or coaches.

The "Future Grads" staff also talked to students' parents about what to expect as their kids prepare for higher education. "A lot of the anxiety we see in families of students we serve is (about) how to pay for college," Ms. Ortiz said. "We really want families to walk away feeling empowered to support their students as they continue to excel in high school."

As these students continue through high school and into college, Ms. Ortiz and her colleagues will help them navigate some of the complexities of college, such as registering for classes, figuring out college housing and getting financial aid. A new cohort of tenth-grade students will be added each year, she said.

Beginning in the fall, students who participated in the weeklong academy and others who express interest will be invited to attend monthly leadership workshops and on-campus lunch meetings.

See the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula website for more information or to apply.

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