Guest opinion: The amazing success of Pre-Collegiate Program
Defining success in the social program world is challenging. In the case of RE-1 School District’s Pre-Collegiate Program, it’s clear as a bell. All 28 of the Pre-Collegiate Class of 2016 graduated from Glenwood Springs, Roaring Fork and Basalt High Schools and have been accepted to college. This includes some extraordinary accomplishments: Jimmy Serrano (Stanford), Jacqueline Henriquez (Pomona), Joselinne Medrano (Daniels Scholar), Grace Brown (Greenhouse Scholar), Esly Reyes (Regis/Si se puede program) and others.
Pre-Collegiate scholars are motivated first-generation students. Their parents did not graduate from college and in most cases did not attend college at all. Pre-Collegiate exists because the outlook nationally for low-income first-generation kids is not positive. Only 11 percent typically graduate from college. By contrast, since 2007, roughly 75 percent of RE-1’s Pre-Collegiate graduates have gone on to graduate from college.
With a recent $300,000 grant from the University of Colorado, the Pre-Collegiate Program set out to deal with both its lengthy wait lists of qualified students and to expand its services. Enrollment has increased from 200 students in grades seven-12 to what’s expected to exceed 320 in 2016-17, growth of more than 60 percent in less than two years.
Executive Director David Smith gave up a promising career as a lawyer with Garfield & Hecht to build on the years of success and grow the program to help more students.
“Years ago I volunteered as a Pre-Collegiate mentor and I witnessed firsthand the incredible difference you can make with these young, capable and motivated students if you could just level the playing field and assist them in navigating the maze of education and career options. We are so excited to be taking Pre-Collegiate into a new phase and be able to serve more deserving students in RE-1.”
“Mentors,” insists Assistant Executive Director Leslie Emerson, “are what make this program work. Our current group of 39 mentors are successful adults from all walks of life who believe in the importance of education and see that their efforts yield extraordinary returns. We always need more committed mentors.”
Scott Gilbert, president of Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley, former mentor and current Pre-Collegiate Advisory Board member says, “Being a mentor is even more rewarding and gratifying than the enduring benefits that students say they cherish. I am still in contact with my mentees 10 years later.”
Tom Neel, retired oil and gas industry executive, mentored students from grade seven through graduation. Tom was elected chair of the Pre-Collegiate Advisory Board. Tom’s recollection: “A wonderful and fulfilling opportunity to connect with our youth. What a great bunch they are.”
Estefania Vigil is a good example of the impact Pre-Collegiate has on leveling the playing field. She was raised in a trailer in Basalt with an extended family of 10-13. Neither Mom nor Dad had attended college, and while hopeful for their children’s futures, had no idea how to pursue them. Estefania graduated in the top 5 percent of her Basalt High School Class of 2009, won an Evans Scholarship to CU/Boulder where she majored in business administration with an emphasis in accounting. She earned a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Virginia and is currently employed as a senior auditor by Ernst & Young.
In her own words, “Pre-Collegiate not only helped me polish my success tools, it also provided me with life long relationships with mentors whom to this day I still count on for career counsel. It also put me in contact with other bright students who became my best friends. More than preparing me to be successful in college, Pre-Collegiate prepared me to be successful in life, and that’s something I will always be grateful for.”
RE-1 Pre-Collegiate was founded in 2003 through a collaboration of the University of Colorado, Colorado Mountain College, Aspen Community Foundation and RE-1. The partners provided staffing, money and support services with the aim of increasing high school graduation and building a college-bound culture. In addition to the volunteer mentoring program, an intensive two-week summer residential experience is provided at CU/Boulder for rising juniors and seniors and a one-week program at CMC’s Spring Valley campus for rising sophomores.
The recent growth of the program has exceeded the expectations of the partners, highlighting the tremendous need for increased college access options for this underrepresented population. With this success and growth come new challenges. The funding from University of Colorado terminates in June 2017 and the Pre-Collegiate Advisory Board, RE-1 administration and the program staff are engaged in developing the essential financial and volunteer support to keep this vital, uniquely successful program serving the first-generation students in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Jim Noyes is a former Pre-Collegiate mentor, current chair of the Pre-Collegiate Financial Advisory Board, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Stanford Business School and a Lisagor Journalism Award nominee.