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CMC a partner in successful program for first generation students

This article was previously published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. By Jim Noyes.

In a country where roughly 25 percent of high school students drop out and never earn their diplomas, and only one-third of the graduates move on to higher education at the college level, the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District is particularly proud of the outcomes of its unique Pre-Collegiate Program.

Three students in class.

Roaring Fork School District Pre-Collegiate Program students Aubrey Wolfe, Viridiana Gonzalez and Christian Trevizo have a bit of fun with a skeleton cast. Contributed photo.

Virtually 100 percent of the grades 7-12 students enrolled in Pre-Collegiate as an optional, extra-curricular activity graduate from high school, and an amazing 97 percent have gone on to college.

These results are particularly impressive given that the Pre-Collegiate Program targets first-generation students — those who would be the first in their families to attend college.

Being a trailblazer is never easy, and these first-generation students are expected to overcome cultural, language and financial barriers and do so without the parental guidance that other students have.

The Pre-Collegiate Program was the brainchild of state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, when she sat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents in 2003. She witnessed a very disturbing high school dropout trend in the Roaring Fork Valley, especially among Hispanic students.

Determined to reverse the trend, Schwartz corralled resources from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado Mountain College, the Re-1 School District and the Aspen Community Foundation to provide financial and academic support to academically talented but economically disadvantaged first-generation students.

Eight years later, there are more than 200 students from seven RFSD schools enrolled in the Pre-Collegiate Program.

They meet regularly in small grade-specific groups with 26 volunteer mentors who are professionals and passionate believers in the benefits of higher education. The volunteers enthusiastically commit their time to expose these young students to the benefits of higher education and what it will take to realize them.

In addition to the mentor support, the Pre-Collegiate Program coordinates Saturday Academies focusing on the college and scholarship application process, summer programs supported by the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado Mountain College, and ACT test preparation and tutoring resources.

Karina Tlaxcala-Jacquez is just one of the poster students for the Pre-Collegiate Program and the positive impact it has on students.

Tlaxcala transferred to Glenwood Springs High School as a sophomore in order to participate in the Pre-Collegiate Program. She graduated as valedictorian and went on to Regis University, where she maintains a 3.9 grade point average and while double-majoring in biochemistry and math.

Following her graduation in 2012, Tlaxcala plans to go to medical school and specialize in treating and researching cancer. As she recently said to a gathering of Pre-Collegiate supporters, “I know it is a big dream, but my mother always says, ‘Karina, suena grande y se te hara,’ or ‘Karina, dream big and it will happen.’”

The Pre-Collegiate Program exists to help make big dreams happen. Those dreams may not all be as lofty as Karina’s but they are equally important.

There is no debate about the value of higher education in our country. Making it possible for otherwise disadvantaged students is what the Roaring Fork Pre-Collegiate Program is doing.