GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Roaring Fork High School graduate Ingrid Gomez says getting involved in the Pre-Collegiate Program back in seventh grade set her up for the success she is now achieving as a University of Colorado student.
"They don't hold your hand, but they guide you there," said Gomez, a 2010 RFHS grad who will start her junior year at CU this fall. She is double-majoring in English and secondary education.
Gomez and a group of University of Colorado officials visited the Post Independent on Friday to talk about the success of the Pre-Collegiate Program, and about new efforts to expand the program into western Garfield County.
CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano said the program is aimed at helping students whose parents and grandparents didn't attend college learn how to prepare themselves academically to be first generation college students.
CU's Pre-Collegiate Program is offered in 13 Front Range school districts, in Summit County and in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The program starts when students enter seventh grade, and continues through middle school and high school.
Students work with professionals in the community who serve as mentors, and with the Roaring Fork School District's Pre-Collegiate director, Leslie Emerson.
High school students also spend two weeks during the summer on the CU campus in Boulder taking classes and experiencing campus life.
"The pipeline is so crucial. It's too late by the time they are sophomores and juniors," said DiStefano. "Without guidance, they may not take the math and science courses that they need to get to college."
"With this kind of guidance early on, students will enter college with a major," said CU Vice Chancellor Bob Boswell. "We make sure all students come in knowing what they want to do. It leads to greater success."
Gomez said in high school she seemed to be headed towards journalism. She was the editor of the RFHS school newspaper for two years, and was the Student Council's head girl in her senior year.
But she was hesitant about such a high-pressure career. Her Pre-Collegiate mentor, retired teacher Bonnie Cretti, encouraged Gomez to use a free period in her senior year class schedule to volunteer as a teacher's assistant at Carbondale Middle School.
"I loved it. By the end of that experience, I knew I wanted to teach," Gomez said.
A native Spanish speaker, she pushed herself by choosing English as her teaching subject area.
"It's a challenge to me, and if it's a challenging subject, I can teach it better because I can be more supportive of the students who are struggling too," she said.
Gomez has another motive as well.
"Growing up, I never had a teacher who was not Caucasian. I want to give students another role model," she said.
Earlier Friday, the CU contingent met with the local Pre-Collegiate Program partners. Also attending the meeting was Ken Haptonstall, superintendent of Garfield District 16, which serves Parachute and Battlement Mesa.
"We discussed how to move forward," said Boswell. "We want to maintain the quality of the Roaring Fork program, and we want to serve more students overall."
A key item discussed was expanding the program to District 16 and to Garfield Re-2, which serves students in Rifle, Silt and New Castle.
The goal is to help students throughout Garfield County prepare themselves for college, whether they choose to attend Colorado Mountain College, CU or another college or university, said DiStefano.
"We want them to have choices once they graduate from high school," said David Aragon, CU's executive director for student success.
Getting the two western Garfield County school districts on board will be one milepost. Another will be to recruit professionals in the communities to serve as mentors for middle and high school students.
Gomez recalled that she was worried that she wouldn't succeed in college, that she would get B's in her classes rather than A's. Cretti gave her some crucial advice that helped her understand the educational process.
"My mentor said, 'Of course you will struggle. College isn't about doing what you already know. Of course you will get a B,'" Gomez said.
Learning how to learn, understanding that an education includes struggles and success, and seeing that everyone faces challenges on their way to a college degree and a career, are key lessons she learned from the Pre-Collegiate Program.