In The Mix:

Program helps set students' minds on college

November 05, 2007|By ALICIA LOPEZ

I had the recent privilege, frightening though it was, of speaking to high school students about going to college.

Talking in front of unfamiliar classrooms is just scary. It doesn’t matter who the kids are and I thought it didn’t matter how old they are.

It mattered this time. It turns out ninth graders are much harder to please than elementary-age kids or even juniors.

These were high school students at Estancia. I was invited by Tricia Edlund to speak to the Puente students there.

The students in the program range from ninth grade to 11th and are on the path to college. They have decided college is for them and the Puente English classes are geared to show them the way.


Puente was started in 1981 as a program for students planning to transfer to a four-year college from a community college. The program focuses on Mexican-American and Latino authors and issues academically while providing mentors, counseling and activities designed to help students achieve their goal of transferring.

In 1993 the program was expanded to the high school level. There are now 18 high schools in California with the Puente program.

The program is open to all the students who want to join. Edlund, who brought the program to Estancia, said some students are referred by teachers and counselors and others join on their own.

Edlund told me the program produces a high percentage of students who go to college— a higher percentage than the rest of the Estancia campus.

My husband, a former Daily Pilot employee and current features designer at the Los Angeles Times, came with me. We were hesitant at first. The idea of talking for 40 minutes about ourselves was daunting.

It ended up being quite cool.

The ninth graders were tough. It seems they haven’t entered the years of their life where the fear of the future is a major factor. They’re on the right path by being involved in the Puente program, but they don’t seem ready to really listen yet.

But the sophomores and juniors were a blast. They asked typical questions about getting to college, getting scholarships and how much we get paid but they also got onto some unexpected topics when they wanted to know how we met and what kind of car my husband drives.

My favorite questions underscored how alien the idea of college is to some.

They asked about what websites they could look up to find out about scholarships and what was the best and worst part about college.

One sophomore asked how I moved from my home to my college. She wanted to know how I logistically managed it. The idea that it was difficult to comprehend making the physical move to college was an eye opener.

It apparently seems to them like a complicated task when they think of getting the good enough grades, picking the college, filling out the applications, finding the money for college and then moving their lives from one city to another.

My husband and I did our best to try to explain the importance of college and that they can get pretty much wherever they want as long as they take one step at a time and don’t give up. But I’m pretty confident that what we said to encourage them is nothing compared to three years in the program will do to prepare them.

ALICIA LOPEZ teaches journalism at Orange Coast College and lives in Costa Mesa. She can be reached at

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles