College Track Seniors – An interview with Lee, Alina, & Carmen

College Track Sacramento makes a 10 year commitment to 60 students each year, agreeing to support them with staff, sessions, and financial input in an effort to get them to and through college starting in the Summer before they enter 9th grade. In August 2017, the first cohort of freshman who started with College Track in 2014 will enter their senior year at Sac High. 76% of College Track youth are low-income and 90% of them will be the first in their families to graduate from college.

SVP has been investing in College Track since the beginning. We’re so excited to see where these incredible teens end up matriculating. This is the first article in a series that will follow three College Track teens – Lee, Alina, and Carmen – as they embark on their senior year adventure!

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If you were choosing which college you would end up at – RIGHT NOW – where would you choose and why?

Lee – UC Merced – it’s a best fit college for me. They cover you financially, they offer first generation programs, and they offer aid for students. It’s close by but not too close!

Alina – Stanford – They have an excellent engineering program and they have first generation programs for students. It’s far enough away from home that I can breathe but close enough that I can come home if I need to be home.

Carmen – UC Merced or UC Santa Cruz – both are best fit colleges for me which is very important for College Track students. They have aid for first generation students, I need that help, honestly. I like both campuses, they’re both kinda secluded. Through College Track, I’ve noticed what type of learner I am and both accommodate to my style.

The College Track program emphasizes students choosing ‘best-fit’ schools, considering how well certain schools match up with student achievements, their success rate for graduating students, overall cost, and their available support services. Because College Track focuses on getting students to graduate from college, they want to ensure students are choosing a school that is right for them from the beginning.

College Track takes college trips to expose all students to universities and campuses they might not otherwise have had a chance to experience. Students visit different universities depending on their competitiveness level. In the past year, there was a trip to Southern California and a trip to visit Bay Area schools. Every student had a different interpretation of different schools. Visiting various campuses is an important part of the college selecting experiences that more privileged peers may take for granted.

Were there any schools you visited on your college visit trip that you thought you would like when you reviewed them on paper but then, when you got there, they just weren’t a fit for you?

Lee – I liked Occidental but when we visited, I realized there weren’t many activities to do. It was in a strange location.

Alina – I always thought I loved the small campus atmosphere but I got to occidental and realized oh, man… it’s TOO quiet… College Track prepared us for what to look for on the visits, which was helpful. We had our questions prepared – Mr. Munoz had us have a list of prepared questions.

Carmen – I really liked Irvine. It looks really great on paper, but going there it just wasn’t me. Everything felt so far apart. It didn’t feel like home to me. Small campus, but huge classes…not a fit for me. CT really opened my view of what schools there are out there. I didn’t know there were so many schools in LA so close to each other!

What do you hope to study while you are in college

Lee – I’d like to study Environmental Science. I’d like to help preserve the earth for future generations.

Carmen – I think Business marketing. I enjoy photography and reaching out to people. Or I may want to look into human development and work with special needs kids. There have been several important people in my life with disabilities; I connect with them easily. I even used to volunteer in middle school helping special needs kids with their homework.

Think back to when you were starting your freshman year; now consider what you know now. What is the most important thing that College Track has taught you?

Lee – I never knew I could go to any school. College Track opened my mind to other colleges I could go to besides Sac State. It made me realize I don’t have to worry about financial need because College Track can support me in finding the financial support I need.

Alina – I don’t think I would have ever thought I could go to a school like Stanford without College Track. College Track has helped make me more prepared for college. My parents set me on the path for college, I always knew I would go, but I had no idea how to get there. It was a foggy, misty path. Then College Track came along and made the sun shine and lit the path for me.

Carmen – My mom would say “get the best grades” … I saw it, but then I didn’t… CT made me realize I could actually get to college.

Has College Track changed who your friends are? Did your core group of friends change from 8th grade to now?

Lee – I never really had a lot of friends because I had a hard time expressing myself, but College Track created a family outside of my house and made me feel comfortable.

To this, Carmen replied, “Lee’s secretly really awesome.” Alina added, “She keeps it to herself, it’s actually kind of selfish!” And all three girls burst out laughing. You can tell the bond between these teens is strong. They’ve been through something together –making a choice to take the path to college – that was neither easy nor quick. And they were in it together from the beginning.

Alina – My core friend group stayed the same, but I made stronger bonds with people in College Track that were part of the same experience.

Carmen –  College Track changed my friend group. I was not on a very focused path, so had I not had College Track I would have probably slipped and gone a different direction… I would have been ok but not as ok and stable and into my college priorities as I am now. Most of my friends are part of College Track now.

In College Track, youth are expected to complete all of their regular high school course work and to attend 3-4 hours per week of afterschool sessions. These sessions include academic support, electives, sessions on ‘best fit’ college, and sessions tailored to where they’re at now, such as the personal statement writing institute they completed during the summer. Seniors take a course called Senior Advisory Workshop where they learn about the FAFSFA, research scholarship opportunities, and finalize the list of schools they are applying to.

Thinking back on College Track, what has been the most difficult thing you have encountered?

Lee – Schedules. We’re a busy family. Sometimes I stay very late at College Track and by the time I get home, I’m exhausted and don’t want to do homework.

Alina – Finding the time to balance homework and personal and home life … it’s hard to remain dedicated and committed and live up to College Track’s attendance expectations and course requirements alongside school and parents’ expectations. But I have learned better time management because of it.

Carmen – Experiencing the new wave of a class every year. It’s awesome that College Track helps so many kids, but every time we get a new class, we have first child syndrome… we don’t like sharing the spotlight… that was the hardest shift. It wasn’t as hard with the first freshman class because we already knew them from middle school but now 2, 3 classes later we don’t know all of the incoming classmates.

Over the course of their four years in College Track, students have the opportunity to earn a merit-based scholarship for use starting in their second semester of senior year as they prepare to leave for college. Their “Bank Book” can be worth up to $675 per year in unrestricted funding. This money can be used for essentials like books, dorm items, or a laptop. To receive 100% of the potential merit-based funds, students must complete 100 hours of community service before graduation and many other academic requirements.

How do you make sure you get all of your work done? Do you have access to a laptop at home?

Lee – I have a family laptop at home

Alina – No actual laptop at home, but I have access to a computer at College Track.

Carmen – Before this year, I didn’t have access to a laptop, but now I work at the cannery for Support Pay and have a laptop at home that I use for work. For college, I’ll need to use my Bank Bank to buy one. We used to have a family laptop too until my brother broke it. It used to be tough because my family would want to use it for Netflix when I wanted to use it to work.

What are you most worried about for when you leave Sacramento (and College Track) and head to college?

Lee – Keeping myself financially in check. I need to learn more about the difference between a want and a need.

Alina – Not living up to everyone’s expectations of what I will do!

Carmen – Being away from home and College Track in general because it has become one of my major support systems and I haven’t gotten used to the idea of not having it around yet. It won’t be the same as seeing Ms. Nikki and Mr. LaSane every day. College is going to be that real ‘this is your moment’ moment.

What one word would you use to describe each of your College Track classmates and why?

Lee – Carmen is energetic – no matter the situation she is optimistic. Alina is mature – she always knows what to do in a situation and tries to work through issues like a grown-up.

Alina – Lee is dedicated because she is ALWAYS at College Track! For Carmen, resilience – she’s faced a lot of obstacles and has always come back from them.

Carmen – Lee – trustworthy – she’s always there, always giving 110%. Alina – resilient – she faces a lot of obstacles and is still trying to get into Stanford.

You can support College Track students like Lee, Alina, and Carmen with a donation to the Bank Book fund. Email Nikki Wardlaw at nwardlaw@collegetrack.org or visit collegetrack.org for more information.

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