Two students run a new after-school class for local Latino youths to help them prepare for college, teaching the application process and how to use their bilingualism to learn vocabulary words for the SAT and ACT.
Mary Sturgis ’16 and Alexa McElroy ’16 said materials and instruction in Spanish are not widely available on financial aid forms, college essays and the timeline for submitting applications. “The fact that there are not more classes like this is very upsetting,” said Sturgis, a double major in international studies and modern languages and literatures from Shreveport, Louisiana.
High school and middle school students from nearby Mount Vernon who attended a recent session said they need more help learning how to get into college than they receive at school. Their parents hope their children will be the first generation of their families to earn degrees, but their help is limited because they haven’t been through the process and speak mostly Spanish.
The course, which started in October at the Salvation Army and has nine regular attendees so far, is the result of a project by Professor of Spanish Clara Román-Odio to document the experience of Latinos in Knox County. She and two other students conducted audio and video interviews with residents about their lives for an exhibit displayed at Kenyon and three other stops in Ohio.
When preparing for “Latinos in Rural America,” she asked people what Kenyon could do for them in return for sharing their stories. Their priority was to help their children go to college.
In one of Román-Odio’s classes, Sturgis and McElroy developed the curriculum for the college prep course with Andres Herrera ’16, of Glendale Heights, Illinois, and Bridget Murdoch ’17, of Winnetka, Illinois.
One high school junior taking the class, Odalys Fajardo, 16, researches colleges where she could study to be a lawyer or judge. “The dreams are huge,” Román-Odio said. But being a hard worker like Fajardo is not enough; the students need a chance to practice skills for college, she said.
At a recent class, students learned from a list of 100 common vocabulary words on the ACT and SAT using various techniques, including relating meanings to a personal experience or drawing an image to remind them of a definition. They referred to the movie Mean Girls when trying to remember what “condescending” means.
Sturgis and McElroy encourage the students to use Spanish to their advantage, looking for similarities in English words. “They know how to navigate languages, but they need that extra laying out of resources to empower themselves to succeed in the way that they clearly can and already have,” said McElroy, a double major in psychology and Spanish area studies who grew up in Capistrano Beach, California.
Mario Álvarez, 15, said he hears at school that the ACT and SAT are important, but he said he felt on his own to prepare. “You have to be the pioneer almost, like you have to figure it out by yourself,” he said. “With help from this class, it opens up doors so you can see exactly what you need to get there.”
Sturgis and McElroy use skills they learned as apprentice teachers through the Kenyon Intensive Language Model, in which advanced students teach small groups of beginning students. “It’s one of the best things I think you can do with your Kenyon experience,” said McElroy, who hadn’t studied Spanish before college. “I’m very passionate about the program and working as an AT, which I absolutely adore.”
McElroy interned with the Ohio Hispanic Coalition and plans to work as a behavioral interventionist with children on the autism spectrum.
Sturgis worked in several countries with the nonprofit Amigos de las Americas and plans a career in public health with Spanish-speaking populations. In an independent study with Román-Odio, she will train new teachers to ensure the college prep class continues for years.