Sunday, April 5, 2009

Latino students determined to beat college odds

Latino students determined to beat college odds
Nathan Lindstrom, Houston Chronicle, April 5, 2009

Eva Briones is majoring in psychology at the University of Houston.

Eva Briones was thinking about college, but it all seemed so mysterious. Her brother dropped out of high school. Her parents never went to college.

“Watching my brother work at minimum-wage jobs, my mom (doing the same), I didn’t want to do that,” she said.

Briones, 21, joined the Academic Achievers program as a freshman at Austin High School, where mentors showed students how to apply to college and for financial aid.

She’s now a sophomore at the University of Houston, majoring in psychology with a 3.5 grade-point average. But many of her friends never made it to college.

“They just work,” she said. “Their families, they focus on you getting out and getting a job, helping out the family.”

Joel German
Joel German figured he’d do what the people around him did.

“I didn’t have no plans to go to college,” he said. “I’d just finish high school and work.”

A program run by the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston encouraged him to give college a try.

That first day was a shock. “My first class, my first day, had 200 students,” he said. “One professor with 200 students.”

But he stuck it out and is now a sophomore.

He’s also become a role model for his three younger siblings. “Because I’m the oldest brother,” he said, “I’m kind of responsible for getting them to go to college.”

Felipe Benitez
Felipe Benitez has faith that he can be different.

“I’m the one that’s going to break the chain in my family,” he said.

At 17, Benitez is a junior at Austin High School, and he’s got help in beating the odds. He enrolled in a program run by the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston to encourage more Hispanics to enroll in college. This summer, he’ll start at Genesys Works, a nonprofit organization that provides job training and placement for high school students.

In fall 2010, he predicts, he will be on a college campus. Four years later, he expects to graduate.

If so, he’ll be beating the odds: His parents never attended college.

Two of his older siblings enrolled but dropped out. Another dropped out of high school.

Benitez said that family history will change with him. “My children will go. I’ll be the one that tells them about college, about getting a scholarship.”

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