Roughly three years ago, two women undertook an effort to take a group of middle school girls in Jackson under their wing with the goal of helping them get into college. The effort is called College Bound Latinas and the program has had some early success. But a recent interaction with a University of Wyoming Professor is taking the girls even further as Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.
BOB BECK: Because of the large number of tourist related jobs in Teton County, the Mexican population has been increasing over the last 20 years. It’s led to a large influx of Latino children into the school system. But because they are learning a second language and adapting to a new culture, some of them have struggled. A few years ago local Head Start Director Lety Liera and Isabel Zumel of the Teton County Library decided to start a group called College Bound Latinas to try and address the problem.
Their goal was to take a group of seventh grade girls and help them get into college. The plan was to work with the girls over the summer. Liera remembers that some thought their idea was crazy.
LETY LIERA: Many of the adults that we have around us told us that these girls are never going to come. They are never going to show up on Saturday’s…on a summer…this is never going to happen.
BECK: Not only did it happen, but the 13 girls who initially showed up were very enthusiastic.
LIERA: What they needed were high expectations and they needed positive attention as well.
BECK: Student Kely Mares says the positive attention was lacking in the school district and the personal interaction made a big difference.
KELY MARES: Before I met Lety and Isabelle I was like so lost, I knew that school was really important for me. But this time I’m not lost, now I know what I wanna do and they have really helped me in that.
BECK: In an effort to introduce them to college life, the College Bound Latinas came to the University of Wyoming and were invited to interact with a class taught by Educational Studies Professor Aurora Chang. Chang was impressed with the girls and it led to the development of an intensive writing program called the Emerging Latina Scholars Intensive Writing Institute. It ran for five days in June.
AURORA CHANG: And many of them were quick to tell me that me they hadn’t written that much in pretty much the entire time they had been in school. And so originally they were not too happy with me.
BECK: Student Laura Perez says Chang’s approach caught them off guard.
LAURA PEREZ: So first she made us write just free writing and she read them. The next day she technically told us that our writing sucked. That just made us hate her a bit, because no teacher has ever told us that.
BECK: But it had the desired result.
PEREZ: So that just made us push ourselves even harder to just write better and look at our work and see what we did.
BECK: The girls wrote a 10-12 page personal biography, along with other writing activities. They even read and analyzed College level articles. Kelly Mares admits she learned a lot and improved, even though writing is not something she generally enjoys.
MARES: I like writing a little bit more, but not that much.
BECK: Chang says her tough approach will help.
CHANG: In the end they understood the value. It’s not about liking folks, it’s not about liking me, it’s about you all getting to college and us doing whatever it takes to not only get to college, but to persevere through college.
BECK: By the way, Chang says the girls improved immensely and says they responded well to the challenges.
CHANG: I think they are really intelligent and they understand that good things take really hard work.
BECK: The girls are tenth grade this year, Chang is including them in her personal research and she plans to challenge the girls even more in coming years. Co-founders Lety Liera and Isabel Zumel say they plan similar programs with other students in the future. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.