By Bill Knief
UNM-Taos is already a month into the fall semester, and students are settling into a routine of class work and homework in addition to their family, personal and professional responsibilities. They have adjusted to having more online and hybrid courses this semester, and overall, the transition to an online bookstore has gone smoothly.
At the same time the UNM-Taos College and Career Prep Program has already launched into their mission to increase the number of area high school graduates attending colleges and universities. Over the past four years the Title V-supported program has served 1,262 high school seniors with an overall higher education attendance rate of 74 percent, compared to a statewide rate of only 35 percent. Currently in the fifth year of a federal, five year Title V Hispanic Serving Institution grant through the Department of Education, funding is tenuous but program director Juan Montes and five work studies continue to assist high school students in moving forward with their lives.
“It’s really about reviving kids’ dreams and affirming them,” Montes said, “and then grounding students in the reality that if they are serious, they are going to have to develop what we call ‘achievement ideology’. That means attendance in school, doing the work, preparing for exams, taking exams and finishing successfully. We stress that their GPA is critical. Now you have to have a minimum of a 2.5 GPA to qualify for the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship, and the only way they are going to do that is to show up, prepare for tests and succeed in their courses. It’s all about how much you are willing to invest, and how serious you are.
“We also think parental involvement is key. We want the seniors and their parents to know where they are going and how they are going to pay for it. If the parents know their accessibility and their affordability, they are more likely to support their student.”
“What the work studies do is go into the schools—Taos, Penasco, Questa, Vista Grande, Chrysalis—and do a presentation on the importance of college,” explained Nicole Romero, Training Coordinator. “We individualize it. We work with them one on one to gain that relationship with them. If they need career exploration we put them on a computer-based program to look into various occupations. If they need help finding different colleges, we work with them on that; we are not biased toward UNM. We give them information on scholarships, financial aid, admissions applications, whatever they need. It’s custom-made for each individual because all of them have different needs. That’s what makes it work.”
According to Montes, “If we can get kids to identify with our coaches, see them as role models, the students begin to understand that we are on their side, and that if the coaches can do it, they can too. That’s a big ingredient in our success, and we can replicate this program anywhere. Title V doesn’t just benefit Hispanic students. It has been responsible for a lot of the UNM-Taos infrastructure throughout the ten years it has helped build the college.”
“It’s hard work. Sometimes it’s frustrating.” Romero explained. “But when you work with a student all semester and they keep telling you they’re not going to college, it’s not for them, and they walk away with a scholarship and end up going to college, that’s what makes our job worthwhile. We teach life skills—tenacity, focus, the ability to work hard and hold on to your dream—not just college prep.”
September 24 at 2 p.m. the College and Career Prep staff will be on Taos Plaza supporting the Walk for Nonviolence and this year’s focus on youth. They would be glad to visit with you.