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Roaring Fork PreCollegiate coaches, encourages first generation college students

Mentorship program designed to see students to and through secondary education

Glenwood Springs High School seniors follow along on their laptops during an after school Roaring Fork PreCollegiate Program.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Being a first-generation college student can be daunting, especially navigating the application process when your parents aren’t totally familiar with it either, Ana Vasquez said.

“It is definitely really scary just the thought of going to college since you do feel kind of lost. But I would say that the PreCollegiate program has helped not just me but guide my parents because they’re just as lost as I am,” Vasquez said.

Roaring Fork PreCollegiate is in its 13th year of offering mentorship to local students in the valley who will be the first in their family to attend college. Vasquez is a senior at Roaring Fork High School and has been a part of PreCollegiate since before high school. She said not only does the program provide valuable information to other students like her and their families, but a place of belonging and the sense of not being alone in her situation.



David Smith, Executive Director of the Roaring Fork PreCollegiate Program talks to students during the after school program at Glenwood Springs High School.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“I would say I have built many friendships just because the other students at PreCollegiate know what I’m going through and they’re living what I’m living, so they understand me. Our group just as a whole has really bonded since middle school…you gain a support system not just from your mentors but also from your peers around you,” Vasquez said.

PreCollegiate Executive Director David Smith, said the biggest criteria they have is for a student to be first generation for college. Once students are admitted to PreCollegiate — seventh graders are the youngest age in the program — they are expected to attend two meetings every month and stay in touch with their mentors. Smith also said there’s a specific GPA requirement students must maintain a GPA requirement through high school to continue with the program.



“We want them to be ambassadors for the program and for themselves…as we’ve kind of grown and involved…we’ve grown specifically with our program options and our curriculum to try and make it a little more focused on getting to college and then getting through college,” Smith said.

Nicole Topete, a freshman at RFHS, said PreCollegiate has helped keep her motivated as a student and focused on the goals she wants to accomplish. Topete said a big lesson PreCollegiate taught her was how to advocate for herself.

“Right now with my mentor we’re learning about how to stand up for yourself mostly. So if you’re not doing well in a class or you’re struggling with material and you don’t understand it, they’re telling us to reach out to teachers. Like, stand up for yourself and if you need the help you have to go get it,” Topete said.

PreCollegiate is linked with the Roaring Fork School District, which provides about 30% of its funding, but has been able to expand the program through donations. Smith said they can currently serve about 390 students or 15% of the school district on their current budget but are always looking for more support. Katie Bailey, the Post Secondary Program Coordinator, said one of her favorite parts about PreCollegiate is seeing students bring their friends or classmates in if they need information about the college application process.

“I would like to share with the community how proud the PreCollegiate staff and mentors are of our community of scholars. They work incredibly hard and they have been navigating a really difficult time, but their perseverance is so admirable and they’re definitely role models to our community…if they see a peer in need of help…it’s a very inclusive and supportive community that we are really proud of,” Bailey said.

Alejandro “Ale” Angeles Medina is a senior at Glenwood Springs High School and has been mentored by Smith for the last two years.

“It can be a scary thought of being the first person to go to college in your family. But it’s also really exciting because, for me personally, I want to make my parents proud and I want to make them happy,” Angeles Medina said.

David Smith, Executive Director of the Roaring Fork PreCollegiate Program talks to students during the after school program at Glenwood Springs High School.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Vasquez said she hopes to enter the medical field after completing the necessary higher education and Angeles Medina said he is interested in entering a STEM field and applied to mostly engineering programs in his college applications. Angeles Medina said the meetings PreCollegiate hosted discussing all the various types of scholarships and how to apply are what helped him get past the fear of all of the unknowns that come with being a first generation college student.

“Whenever I would go to the meetings we would specify (on a topic) like financial aid and stuff like that…breaking it down like that makes it seem more achievable and easier to grasp, and less stressful for sure,” Angeles Medina said.

The individualized attention offered to students at PreCollegiate is a resource that helped drive and shape Vasquez’s goals throughout high school and beyond, she said. For other prospective first generation college students in the Valley, Vasquez said it is worth it to look into joining PreCollegiate and meeting other students who are in a similar spot, even if right now college doesn’t seem like something they’re interested in pursuing.

“Especially the summer programs they kind of take away a little bit of that stress and uncertainty about going to college because they provide like a small snippet about what the college experience is…for younger kids, if they’re given the opportunity to be in PreCollegiate to definitely take it. Because even if you’re unsure, just having that support system it will really help you see what you want to do moving forth past high school.”

Get Involved

-To donate to Roaring Fork PreCollegiate, or apply to become a scholar in the program, visit their website here

-If you’re interested in volunteering as a mentor, reach out to Executive Director David Smith at dsmith@rfschools.com

jpeterson@postindependent.com


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