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College is a life-changing experience for students Patty Chavez | Sat, Apr 11 2015 12:00 PM

The college journey doesn’t end with acceptance into college. It continues in various stages beginning with that trying first year of school when everything is new – new responsibilities, expectations and course workload. And whether a student is living away from home or commuting to school, there is also that adjustment to college life and environment.

For first generation college students, many who are from low-income households, these first year challenges also include financial burdens that can impact college persistence and ultimate graduation. Many work full or part time causing additional time restraints.

A report in USA Today stated that nationally, 89 percent of low-income first-generation college student leave college within six years without a degree. More than a quarter leave after their first year — four times the dropout rate of higher-income second-generation students.

These are challenges that Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood’s (CVPromise) Academic Advocates understand first hand. All twelve advocates were first in their families and beat the odds to earn college degrees. Now, they are sharing their insights and providing supports to change statistics for their students.

CVPromise’s Academic Adovocate program provides personalized support to both students and families from middle school on to college completion. Each advocate has 50 students and stay with the same students on through to college.

“It’s a transition for student and family,” Gloria Calderon, CVPromise Academic Advocate, said. “College students are adults now. Both student and parents are finding themselves in new roles and goals are now different. We help our students set new goals, provide resources and connections on and off campus to help in their academic advancement.”
Calderon was first in her family to go to college. She grew up in Chula Vista, attended Southwestern College and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at University of California, Los Angeles and then a masters a Columbia University.

“Our first cohort of college students are about to complete their first year of college,” Calderon said. “We designed unique supports to help students stay on track.”

For those students attending a community college, the goal is not only completion, but also helping students map out transfer plans to a four-year university. To help with these unique challenges, SWC in partnership with CVPromise, designated a college counselor to work specifically with CVPromise advocates and their college students. The counselor also supports foster youth.

“This is the first year of the program,” SWC Foster Youth Counselor Kimi Rodriguez-McSwain said. “I have a great relationship with Gloria (Calderon). By working together we can provide other opportunities such as workshops on time management, field trips to four-year universities, and motivational lunches.”

Twenty CVPromise students attended SWC this year. While these students can meet with any SWC counselor, they have top priority with Rodriguez-McSwain who helps them choose classes, figure out financial aide paperwork, and provide more specialized supports.

“We’re like a family,” said Rodriguez-McSwain.

It’s that family feel and support that also continues to connect and inspire other CVPromise first year college students.

Last year, we shared Alma Lopez’s journey to college. She graduated from Castle Park High School in June 2014 and was accepted to CSU Dominguez Hills – her first choice. Lopez was first in her family to graduate high school and go to college. Now, she’s getting close to completing her first year.

“Not only is she doing well in school, she has become a role model and mentor to other students,” Calderon said.
Lopez has led tours when CVPromise students visit CSU Dominguez inspiring both community college students and high school seniors. She has also lent her time during winter and spring break to meet with student and their families providing encouragement and hope.

“It’s amazing to see how just one year of college impacts a student.” Calderon said. “They see the world differently.

They are looking to the future. They are becoming critical thinkers. They are leaders.”

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood (CVPromise) is proud to partner with Castle Park Elementary, Castle Park Middle, Castle Park High School, Hilltop Middle and Hilltop High School to bring new opportunities and pathways of success for their students and families. For more information, visit CVPromise.org or call (619) 422-5005.

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