When one of the students mentored by Vivian Callaghan confessed she
didn't think she could go to college, Callaghan told her about her own journey
-- not only to college, but to the Ivy League.
"They just need a little guidance," said Renee Lacy, another mentor. "They thought just because they were Spanish, they couldn't make it in America."
The Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce set out to change that mind-set. As a result, the "Passport to Success" Hispanic Youth Leadership Mentoring Program on Wednesday celebrated its first 28 graduates at Elkhardt Middle School. As each certificate was given, presenters gave loud maraca shakes -- and hugs.
The mentorship program stresses the importance of education for the Hispanic community, which has the highest dropout rate among all ethnic groups, according to the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Elkhardt is the city's designated English as a Second Language school with students from 27 nations and 50 percent Hispanic student population.
Every Wednesday for 13 weeks, Hispanic professionals met their students at the school's media center during their lunch hour to discuss student goals, time and stress management, and what success can look like.
It is part of the chamber's larger "Passport to Education Initiative" featuring workshops with high school students and their families.
Program coordinator Lisa Zajur had been working with Hispanic business and community leaders for two years to jump-start the program with a strong curriculum. Some students were selected based on poor academic performance or behavioral issues, Zajur said, while others opted into the program as word got out.
"We always laugh," seventh-grader Adriana Sanabria said of her mentor. She talked about wanting to become a chef or an FBI agent. "We learned never back down from your dreams."
Sixth-grader Yenifer Monterrosa said her dream was to graduate from college. Her mentor, Amanda Velez, is the program coordinator at VCU's Global Education office.
"This is a great and amazing program to help us with our goals," Yenifer said. "I met a new best friend."
Velez said the program stands out among mentoring programs because of the focused curriculum during the one-on-one sessions.
"Middle school is a critical age for kids. They really develop into what kind of adults they are going to become," she said, adding that even though neither of her parents went to college, mentors during her middle school years encouraged her to reach her goals.
Lacy said the students come from a wide range of family situations. Some parents are engaged in the student's education; others aren't. Some parents work two or three jobs; others expect the students to help with the family business.
"We tell them to adapt right where you are, right here, right now, and grow from there," she said.
Callaghan, who drove from Fairfax each week for the program, said everything from learning to relax through yoga to discovering strengths to setting goals was important to their growth.
"You start one child at a time," she said.
(c)2013 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.)
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