Basalt High School student first in his family to go to college
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – One unplanned step can change your life.Adriana Ayala-Hire’s eyes get big and a grin is certainly to follow when asked about the Roaring Fork School District’s Pre-Collegiate Program she directs.”It’s really a great program,” is a comment scattered throughout a conversation with her.In only her second year as director of the program, Ayala-Hire says, “It’s a dream come true.” It seems she’s found her calling in helping first-generation college students achieve their educational goals.”I really enjoy seeing the seniors move on and being prepared for college,” Ayala-Hire said. “My dreams come true each year when I see them graduate and go off to college.”
The Pre-Collegiate Program began in 2003 through the Aspen Community Foundation (ACF), according to ACF program director Sharyn Goodson.”It was a collaboration between ACF, the Roaring Fork School District, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado Mountain College,” Goodson said. “The University of Colorado at Boulder has had a precollegiate program for a long time, and we wanted to provide something along the same lines for students in the valley.”The ACF supported the program for the first three years, after which time the RFSD took the reins and has grown the program to 190 first-generation prospective college students ranging from grade six to seniors in high school. The program provides the students with the tools and knowledge of what steps they need to take in order to get accepted into the college that best fits them. It also shows them where to look for available finical assistance, which most students need.”Life is about steps,” Ayala-Hire said. “We show them the steps it takes to accomplish what they want to. These kids are the first ones in their families to go to college, and if they don’t have someone to show them how to do it, then they’re most likely not going to try.”
One unplanned step in the right direction put Basalt High School senior Luis Morales on the right path to college. Morales’ unconventional high school career left him questioning if he would go to college at all.”You always have a dream of going to college,” he said. “But you really don’t know how to get there.”He was a sophomore attending school in Los Angeles, Calif., when his mother decided to move the Morales family to Basalt.”We moved around a lot when we were in L.A.,” Morales said. “I went to a couple of different schools.”For a single mother raising three kids, Morales said that his mother thought it was time for a change and moved her family to Basalt. With one step into unfamiliar territory, the change turned out to be the best thing, in Morales’ view.”It was all a mistake,” he admitted.Morales is quick to point out that he “stumbled” into the program after following around a girl he’d met during his first summer in the valley for the first day of school.”I followed this girl into the class where (students in the program) were meeting. They asked me if I wanted to stay, so I did. But it was all by mistake.”And just like that, with one unplanned step, Morales’ life was on a different path – the bumpy road to college.”If not for the Pre-Collegiate Program, I might be looking at going to CMC,” Morales said.But he’s quick to say that the road may just as easily have taken him back to “Cali” to see if college was an option, or just for work.”If it wasn’t for that one accident, I wouldn’t be going to CU,” he said.
Relationships with the ACF, CMC, and CU-Boulder are a big reason for the success of the program. Aspen Community Foundation and the CMC foundation provide scholarships for some of the students in the program. Last year, the ACF provided five scholarships to students that covered portions of tuition, fees, books, and room and board. This year ACF saw 20 precollegiate students apply for scholarships, but the students won’t know for a couple more weeks if they get them.But Goodson is just happy with the way the program has grown, and she and the ACF are just happy to contribute.”We love what they are doing,” Goodson said. “Because it’s still a fairly new program, but it starts with students as young as sixth grade.”The ACF Scholarships focus on students attending four-year institutions, while CMC offers scholarships to nearly 40 percent of the precollegiate students currently, according to Ayala-Hire.”A lot of our students go to CMC for that reason,” she said.Other institutions like CU-Boulder and Colorado State University also have scholarship programs available to precollegiate students. CMC and CU-Boulder offer summer programs where the students visit the campuses for either one or two-week periods, just to give prospective students a taste of college life.That’s a very positive aspect of the program, according to Morales.”It just gave me a feel for the college and showed me that you could do it,” Morales said.
Morales is quick to thank his mentor, Scott Gilbert, not only for helping Morales in getting accepted to CU-Boulder, but for helping him get enough scholarships and financial aid to pay for his education.”(Gilbert) helped me out a lot,” Morales said. He wants to study business. Just like his mentor, Scott.”Mrs. Ayala did her part, too,” Morales said. “Without her I definitely wouldn’t be here.”Gilbert has mentored Morales for the two years Morales has been in the program. In all, Gilbert has mentored several kids for three years now. And over that time, he’s developed a special bond with the kids he’s mentored.”It’s interesting. Luis didn’t know what to expect when he moved here, but he’s really seized the opportunity,” Gilbert said. “I don’t know what would have happened if he’d stayed in L.A.”For Morales, Gilbert was a big reason for his success in the program. Gilbert knows it, too. The changes in Morales are evident to Gilbert.”Each little piece has given him the confidence to get ahead,” Gilbert said. “It’s given him confidence, and that is what the program helps them with.”Morales received a Diversity Scholarship from CU-Boulder and was one of five-out-of-six applicants from the program to receive a Daniels Scholarship that will cover nearly all of his uncovered expenses including books, tuition, room and board, and other fees.”This is a full ride for four years,” Ayala-Hire said of the Daniels Scholarship. “It’s pretty much like riding in a Cadillac.”Even though he had been accepted, without the scholarships Morales still didn’t know if he would go to college.”I was really excited when I found out I got accepted to CU,” Morales said. “But I still wasn’t really thinking about it because of my financial situation.”But he’d worked too hard for two long years to let this opportunity pass him by. And with all the advice and help through the precollegiate program, he’s looking forward to his time in Boulder.”It was harder than anything I’ve ever done,” he said. “It was really hard to even be considered for the Daniels Scholarship. Without Mrs. Ayala and Scott (Gilbert), I don’t know that I would have gotten it.”Finding out that he’d be receiving the Daniels and the Diversity scholarships, Morales welcomes the hard work ahead of him.”After I got the scholarships it boosted my confidence,” he said. “I’m pretty excited.”It’s amazing how one unplanned step can do that.Contact John Gardner: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
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