Summit Pre-Collegiate program helps local students overcome barriers
If it weren’t for the Summit Pre-Collegiate Program, Brandon Estrada believes he would have dropped out of school by now.
School staff and family members have often told the Summit High School senior that he doesn’t have what it takes to make it to college or even graduation. Those words were becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy for Estrada until he visited the University of Colorado at Boulder as part of a Pre-Collegiate field trip.
For two weeks, Estrada slept in dorms, ate at dining halls, took classes in lecture auditoriums and studied in the university library. The trip opened his eyes to what college could be.
“I’ve always had that little thought behind my head listening to others bringing me down, but there’s something inside me that just wanted to prove them wrong,” he said at the school board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 10.
Estrada is one of 196 Summit middle and high school students participating in the program this year. He joined Pre-Collegiate Program Director Danelle Hicks, Summit High senior Cathy Contreras and junior Alexis Baños Ruiz to update the board on the program at Thursday’s meeting.
The program, which started in 2010, is offered exclusively to students who would be in the first generation in their family to go to college. They have access to adult mentors, tutoring, financial guidance, career exploration, social-emotional support and college courses. About 90 percent of the students are the first in their family to finish high school, Hicks said.
“These first-generation students have a lot to overcome in front of them,” she said. “The Pre-Collegiate Program is here to break down every barrier and help them through it, then push them out into the world to be successful, to make their parents proud, to make themselves proud.”
So far, the program has proved to be a success in getting students to graduation and beyond. It has had a 100% graduation rate for the past three years, and all of the 28 seniors currently enrolled in the program are on track to graduate as well.
In the six years following their graduation, an average of 52% of the students earn their associate or bachelor’s degrees. Nationally, about 43% of low-income first generation students achieve the same.
While the program has been successful for years, Hicks said it became even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when students had to learn at home or in a hybrid format.
Many of the students in the program saw their family responsibilities increase when the pandemic started. Contreras said she was balancing challenging International Baccalaureate classes while babysitting family members and working a job.
“My family responsibilities were things I couldn’t say no to, and keeping my grades up was really difficult,” she said.
Contreras ultimately dropped the IB classes after realizing she wasn’t going to be able to keep up with them or afford the exams that would allow her to get college credit for taking them. The Pre-Collegiate Program allowed her to still take classes from Colorado Mountain College, which will ultimately help her in her goal to study nursing in the fall.
The Pre-Collegiate Program isn’t without its challenges. Currently, Hicks is the only full-time staff member supporting the program at the district. The district has a vacancy for a bilingual parent outreach and program coordinator position at Summit Middle School.
While that role remains vacant, the middle school students aren’t able to participate in traditional aspects of the program, like a yearly one-week experience at Colorado Mountain College, in which they get their first exposure to college classes. Contreras said working with her mentor, Sisley Milroy, in middle school played a crucial role in her path to graduation.
“She helped me a lot with my identity, helped me a lot in figuring out who I was, telling me that I could go to college and I could be a nurse and I didn’t have to just stay home,” she said.
Hicks said the program could also use more mentors. Currently there are 25 mentors who come to the school once a week to meet with students one on one. The mentors are all volunteers from the community.
“In the last four or five years that I have been involved in this program, it is by far the most meaningful volunteer experience I’ve ever had in my life,” said board President Kate Hudnut, who mentors five students through the program.
The program is also supported by outside organizations like CU Boulder, CMC, Colorado State University, The Summit Foundation, El Pomar and Americorps Vista.
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