Increasingly, children of local Hispanic immigrants are thinking favorably about college, according to two guidance counselors running a college preparatory program at the Hispanic Resource Center (HRC).
The counselors, Larchmont residents Penny Oberg, formerly with Rye Country Day, and Peter Marcon, retired from Rye High School, believe the intensive help available to immigrant children in the Mamaroneck school system is paying off. Immigrant children are succeeding academically at the high school level and aiming for college at rates much higher than the national average.
The Mamaroneck High School guidance department said that last June’s graduating class included 33 Hispanic children. Of these, an astonishing 32 went on to college, 21 to four-year colleges and 11 to two-year programs. Nationwide just 35% of Hispanic high school graduates enroll in college.
Mr. Marcon said the old idea that the immigrants were only interested in staying here a few years, making some money and returning home, is being turned on its head. Increasingly the younger generation is looking to build a life here.
Ms. Oberg said, “HRC has been aware of the need to complement the high school’s counseling with a specialized ethnic-tailored program presented at HRC’s St. Thomas headquarters, an environment familiar and comforting to the families.”
The program is one of a number of educational programs HRC has funded through its annual Fiesta fundraisers, this year’s to be held on November 13th at the Hampshire Country Club. Sandra Espada, program development director at HRC, helped develop and implement the program last year and its continuation this year.
One Successful College Students Shares Her Story
The program opened this year on September 30 with counselors talking about students’ and parents’ roles in the college admissions process, basic requirements for college admissions and when to start planning for college.
On October 7, the two counselors prepared a surprise for attendants: a visit from 21-year old Jirandy Martinez, a former Mamaroneck High School volley ball team captain, now a junior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an HRC part-time staff member. She gave her personal story on “why and how” she prepared for college.
Ms. Martinez said she was the first in her family to go to college and she had to figure out how to do it on her own. “Both my parents were working and they didn’t know, or have the time to learn the process. It was up to me,” she said. She was shy as a freshman but learned she had to “step out and be noticed. You have to ask questions and be involved. I made sure teachers knew who I was and they liked that. I made counselors my best friends. And they still are. I still stop by to see them.”
Ms. Martinez said she was accepted at the SUNY College in Albany, one of ten colleges she applied to. But after her freshman year, she transferred to CUNY’s John Jay College in Manhattan. “I’m a city girl, and I missed being near New York City,” she said. The Albany institution was diversified and enjoyable, but John Jay proved more to her liking. She said John Jay’s student body is a broad mix of students from all backgrounds. “I don’t feel isolated here. I feel welcome. The Latino student population is very involved, very competitive and wants to get somewhere.”
She said she hopes to go on for a master degree in English and then pursue a law degree. “I like studying: it’s my life. It’s what makes life better,” she added.
College Bound Immigrants May Have Special Needs
Ms. Oberg said it is not surprising that in many cases it is the students, not the parents, who are leading the push for college. Many Hispanic parents are uncertain and worried. How will they pay for it? Will it weaken bonds of a close-knit family? How will the family hold on to traditional values and customs?
She concurred with Ms. Martinez that “many parents don’t understand how the system works and are embarrassed to ask about it. They think they are the only ones who don’t understand and at a large high school meeting with a cross-section of local parents, they tend to be too self-conscious to speak up. Conversely, when they come to HRC they already know the place and the case managers and they’re more confident about asking and listening.”
Many Challenges: Some Solutions
Mr. Marcon and Ms. Oberg agree that college preparation is a real challenge for immigrant families. But they say the counselor’s job is to point out some of the solutions. Here is the way they see it:
- College can be financially burdensome, even at community colleges and other public institutions. There are costs including minimal tuition or fees, books, clothes and transportation. Also, important to many families, there is an opportunity cost in the loss of income from an 18-year-old child who might otherwise be working full-time soon. The answer is that there are numerous scholarships and grants, loans and other programs available to ease the strain.
- Immigrant children have a harder time getting into colleges of their choice for reasons of finance, lack of useful contacts, and networking opportunities. The answer is that there is a college for almost everyone. Status aside, the benefit of most any college is proportionate to what a student makes of it.
- The actual college application process is complex and even intimidating. The financial aid form is particularly complex. The answer is that Ms. Oberg and Mr. Marcon, alongside HRC staff, not only discuss these forms at meetings but will offer one-on-one help to the students and parents.
At the October 14 session, students and parents talked to Mamaroneck High School counselor Andrea Yizar; learned the road map to application success; and got an understanding of tests, forms and deadlines. On October 21st they will learn about tutoring and mentoring programs; a two year vs four year plan; and last minute options.