College becomes reality for Glenwood twins | PostIndependent.com

College becomes reality for Glenwood twins

Sue Postema Scheeres
CU Boulder
Glenwood High School senior Keyla Contreras, left, and Summit County High School students Lizbeth Serrano and Nancy Higuera, in an advanced chemistry lab at CU Boulder last summer.
Patrick Campbell | CU Boulder

Keyla and Kenia Contreras share more than just a birthday. The fraternal twins – both seniors at Glenwood Springs High School – also share the dream of going to college, thanks to Roaring Fork PreCollegiate.

This college access and prep program mentors first-generation students in the Roaring Fork Valley to help them graduate from high school, enroll in college and graduate from college. With the school year now underway, both students are already planning for next fall.

“Our family is really happy that we’re in the program because they know it will help us go to college,” said Kenia, who wants to be a nurse. “I want to take advantage of opportunities that my parents never had.”

The program started in 2004 as a partnership between CU Boulder’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, Colorado Mountain College, the Roaring Fork School District and the Aspen Community Foundation. The aim has always been to increase the high school graduation rate for first-generation students from the valley and to provide them with the tools and opportunity to attend college.

The program’s track record is impressive. According to Executive Director David Smith, 100 percent of seniors in the program graduate from high school and are accepted to college, and the program has a 70 percent college graduation rate.

“Part of our role is to be an educational cheerleader, to help them realize their dreams and give them the resources to make it to college,” Smith said.

Currently, more than 300 Roaring Fork students in seventh through 12th grades are involved with the program, which relies on volunteer mentors from the community to teach academic, life and study skills.

For sophomores, juniors and seniors, it also includes spending one week at CMC and two weeks at CU Boulder during the summer for what many refer to as “academic boot camp.” Students take academic classes taught by college professors and high school teachers, live in dorms and enroll in seminars that focus on college readiness and applying for college.

Keyla, who wants to study psychology in college, said attending the camp at CU Boulder for two summers has given her the push she needs to reach her goals.

“Coming here gave me a real world college experience and taught me how to cope with hard classes. I felt prepared for my classes when I went back to high school,” said Keyla, whose parents didn’t go to college.

“My dad works ridiculous hours. At one point he had three jobs. My parents have told us that you have to go for it, that nobody and nothing is going to wait for you,” she said.

Peer counselors were all in the program in high school and are now in college, many at CMC and CU Boulder. They provide tutoring and moral support to the high school students while on campus.

“I want students to be aware of options when they are in high school and to have personal insights about what to expect in college,” said Karros Huang, a junior engineering student at CU Boulder who was part of Roaring Fork PreCollegiate when he was a student at Glenwood Springs High School.

“I decided that I wanted to give back to the program, that PreCollegiate didn’t end when I went to college,” he added.

It’s the cyclical nature of the program and the desire for participants to give back that makes Roaring Fork PreCollegiate so special, and why more than 300 students have successfully graduated from the program since 2007.

“We have unbelievably amazing students in the program, and our goal is to level the playing field to make sure they know that college is possible for them,” said Smith. “The program is successful because of the dedication of our volunteer mentors, who provide constant encouragement and really help guide students to realize their potential.”

Learn more about the Roaring Fork PreCollegiate Program at http://www.rfsdprecollegiate.org


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