Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Effects of a College-Going Culture An Interview With Efrain Lopez

Carol Miller Lieber’s Increasing College Access Through School-Based Models of Postsecondary Preparation, Planning and Support presents a series of organizing principles and promising practices that can propel today’s underrepresented youth to college and beyond. Lieber argues that a strong college-going culture can change the tides for any individual. To bring such a culture to life, a dedicated community must maximize the guidance they provide every student. This means both adults and teachers must listen responsively to youth, ask thoughtful questions, and provide helpful feedback. The community and it’s schools must engage in specific college-going activities, make post-secondary plans an exit requirement for every student, and above all else, believe in a genuine way that every person has the capacity to attend and flourish in college.

Over the past semester, I have seen many of Lieber’s proposed practices played out in the life of Project Coach and our high school coaches. Efrain Lopez, a second year PC coach and Senior at the Springfield Renaissance School, took time after school this week to answer a few of my questions about his path towards college.

Matt Samolewicz: What resources are available at your high school that have helped you to work towards a college education?

Efrain Lopez: I think my school, the Springfield Renaissance School, offers a lot of college-bound help. There is strong academic support, they provide extra help with schoolwork, and even help you to fill out your FAFSA. LGR, Lets Get Ready, a program that goes to a lot of Springfield high schools, also comes to our school and helps us to reach our college goals. Really, Renaissance is like LGR twenty-four-seven. Overall, Renaissance has helped me find colleges that are right for me.

MS: How have they helped you to find colleges that are right for you?

EL: Well, the school and my guidance counselors have helped me to think about my personality and where I might fit. They’ve also helped to point me in the right direction based on what majors I’m interested in. We started by making a list of about thirty colleges and then we narrowed it down to between seven and five colleges.

MS: What colleges are you applying to?

EL: Personally, I am applying to Southern Connecticut in New Haven, University of New Haven, University of Bridgeport, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, and Holyoke Community College. My guidance counselors told me to apply to three kinds of colleges: reach schools, or schools to work forward to, comfort-zone schools, or schools you will most likely get in to, and safety schools, or schools that will definitely accept you.

MS: How has Project Coach helped you worked towards going to college?

EL: Project Coach and it's Thursday’s SAT preparation sessions have helped me to prepare for the SATs and do better in school. Overall, I have learned that I’ll do fine wherever I go to college. Based on my personality I think I will fit in wherever I go. Project Coach has helped me with that and can help a lot of kids who aren’t necessarily comfortable or have strong personalities.

MS: What resources aren’t available to you that you wish were?

EL: None, really. Ever since my Freshman year, Renaissance has been pushing college on me and my peers and it is up to us, the students, to take it seriously. Senior year comes for a lot of people and they go, ‘Oh man, if only I had listened to them!’ It is really a matter of learning to take it seriously. Not everyone in my community has access to the same resources. The resources are there, but you need to look for them. In my opinion, people help people who help themselves. You have to listen and take what is said seriously.

Efrain’s insight helped me to recognize what a college-going culture can do to assist our youth and their college goals. Efrain's experiences at the Springfield Renaissance School and as a member of Project Coach’s team are an account of the support it takes to make a post-secondary education a reality for today’s urban youth.

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