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Central Valley Scholars Re-Introduces College-Prep Workshops After Three Years

On September 24, 2022 we re-introduced our in-person College-Prep Workshops for the first time since the pandemic! During our original founding in 2019, we held our first workshop in Mendota High School, and it was a full circle moment to host a workshop again in this community; this time with more funding, a more structured mission, and in partnership with the Educational & Leadership Foundation.

California’s Central Valley is home to the wealthiest agricultural producers in the world, but it also contains the poorest people and the least educated congressional district in the United States (Jarman, 2016; Berube, 2008). Many rural communities in the region have the lowest high school and college graduation rates in the nation.

In Mendota, CA, for example, less than two percent of the adult population carry bachelor’s degrees, and high school students rank below average in college readiness (GreatSchools, 2021; Stebbins & Suneson, 2017). In this region, there is a critical need to transform the education system to help all students, especially those who are underserved, receive a post-secondary education.

In addition to this, higher education systems in the United States often fail to understand the intersectional issues marginalized students face. Based on our students' feedback and experience, we have found that colleges maintain rigorous applications and hold ableist expectations that require applicants to adhere to a secret curriculum based on white supremacist values.

Students at the College-Prep Workshop on September 24, 2022. Photography by Kiana Shoots.

Our College-Prep Workshops are designed by and for first-generation, undocumented, low-income, BIPoC, queer, disabled, and underserved students in the Central Valley, with the understanding that students in the rural communities of the Central Valley have little to no resources in regards to completing an undergraduate degree.

We provide the support, guidance, and tools for students to achieve the education they deserve; and build a community of diverse Central Valley students who are loved, encouraged, and believed in during their higher education trajectories.

Our curriculum is centered with three goals in mind:

  • Access: We aim to provide access to information that is otherwise gate-kept from Central Valley students, pertaining specifically to applying to and completing an undergraduate university.

  • Empowerment: We aim to empower students to dream big, be ambitious, and connect them with identity-alike leaders who have first-hand experience facing adversities while pursuing a higher education.

  • Critical Consciousness: We aim to provide realistic and critical perspectives on higher education, in which students are able to assess their needs and values, make informed decisions during their college application process, and are prepared for possible challenges headed their way.

Our workshops not only provide the necessary trainings and information needed for students to submit successful applications to undergraduate universities, but also give students the space to reflect on their identities, community, and needs in order make conscious and educated decisions on their educational journeys.

As part of our workshop curriculum, students received trainings on college pathways, funding options for higher education, college and scholarship essay writing, and had the chance to engage with a Central Valley student college panel.

We center quality over quantity in everything that we do, and ensure that every student has all the resources they need for success. For this reason, every student admitted into our workshop received the following:

  • A free breakfast and lunch (we had a taco stand!)

  • A Central Valley Scholars tote bag with This Book Is Anti-Racist, stickers, snacks and resource packets (including step-by-step guides on FAFSA, Dream Act, Common Application, UC Application and more)

  • Entrance in raffle items (iPad Air and Beats Headphones)

  • Comprehensive trainings on college pathways, FAFSA and Dream Act, college and scholarship essay writing, and more

  • A $100 scholarship for loss of wages, mileage, or college application cost

Students interacting with our Prep Scholars. Photography by Kiana Shoots.

While the $100 scholarship may feel like an unnecessary incentive, it is actually critical for our students accessibility to attend the workshop. Central Valley students, especially those who are underserved, face a myriad of challenges that inventively interfere with their higher education trajectory. Lack of financial capacity is an extensive challenge, and many students carry high leadership responsibilities in which they’re responsible to serve as a bread winner for themselves and their families. This scholarship is vital in ensuring all students have access to our workshop, especially for students who are low-income.

Here are what our students had to share in regards to the importance of the $100 scholarship:

To further promote student accessibility and safety we discussed the importance of pronouns and gave students the space to share their pronouns. We also offered gender neutral restrooms and free tampons and pads, had live Spanish interpreters during the entire workshop, and allowed each student to bring to two additional guests (whether that be their parents, siblings, or whomever else they would like to bring into the space).

Student Demographics & Feedback

Originally, we had a goal of admitting 30 students into our workshop, but due to the high interest and need from Mendota High School students (we received 63 applications for the workshop) we admitted 34 students into the space.

All of the students who applied to the workshop were seniors at Mendota High School and carried the following identities:

  • Over 95% of the workshop participants identified as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPoC), primarily Latin(o/x/e)

  • Over 95% of students were low to median income (We calculate student income levels based on household size and income. To learn more about our income distributions, click here).

  • Over 80% of students were first-generation, meaning the first in their immediate family, besides their siblings, to proceed with attaining a Bachelor's degree

  • Over 73% of students identified as women or non-men (i.e. "non-men" is a term we use to for folx who are not cisgender men, whether that be trans men, cis women, gender queer students, etc.)

Students entering the workshop with their tote bags and t-shirts! Photography by Kiana Shoots.

As part of our data collection, we conducted a pre and post survey to track students' growth in knowledge on college pathway options, FAFSA and Dream Act, and their confidence levels in applying to college before and after attending the workshop. After attending the workshop, students had a huge increase in growth in each of these three areas.

Figure 1.0 - Interest In Applying To Different Universities & Colleges

In Figure 1.0, students were asked about universities and colleges they would be interested in applying to before and after attending the workshop. While we see the a similar major distributions for California State Universities (CSUs) and Universities of California (UCs), we can see a heightened interest and developed interest for different types of institutions that students may have not known existed (e.g. Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities).

Figure 2.0 - Knowledge About FAFSA & Dream Act

In Figure 2.0, students were asked to rate their knowledge about the FAFSA and Dream Act before and after the workshop. As seen above, there was a huge increase in student knowledge on these applications after attending the workshop. Close to 80% of students left the workshop feeling very informed on these applications, and not one student left feeling un-informed.

Figure 3.0 - Confidence Levels In Applying To College

In Figure 3.0, students were asked about how confident they were in applying to college before and after attending the workshop. Before the workshop, students were apprehensive and primarily not confident to apply to college. After the workshop, we see a boost - students are confident in being able to navigate their application processes. Not one student left feeling unconfident in applying to colleges.

Overall, our workshop went exceedingly well. We asked our students to rank their experience at our workshop from a one to five (1 being extremely poor and 5 being extremely well). On average, students ranked their experience at our workshop a 4.7 out of 5, with not one ranking being lower than a four. In addition, 100% of students stated feeling safe at our workshop and 100% of students would recommend our workshops to their peers.

Here are some additional comments students shared:

Internal Reflections & Thank You's

This workshop was such a success. It was such an honor to work alongside the Mendota community, and see how together, we can create such transformative, inclusive, and positive spaces for students to attain access to higher education.

Michael Piña, our President CEO, shares "It's the little things that happen throughout the day that showcase how huge of an impact this was for our students - seeing students racing to the door to make it to the workshop on time, seeing students actively listening and taking notes throughout the presentations, sharing laughter and hugs together throughout the day, having students enthusiastically put on their Central Valley Scholars t-shirts for the group photo, and seeing the smile on every students faces after leaving the workshop."

Michael, pictured in the baby blue jacket, speaking with students at the workshop. Photography by Kiana Shoots.

"Everything we do here is done as a labor of love, and reflection on what we wish we had when we were in these students' shoes. To see that students not only received the resources they needed to submit successful applications to higher education institutions, but also felt safe and comfortable to be their authentic selves... that means the world to me. I am so proud of the space we were able to create, and now with students' direct feedback and advice, we will only provide better workshops for the generation of scholars to come."

We would like to share our gratitude to the following people and companies for their contributions in making this workshop possible:

  • All the staff and team at Mendota High School for opening their doors to us with love and support.

  • Guidance Instructional Advisor Georgina Mercado for all the time, energy, and labor she put into making this day possible.

  • Linguistica Interpreting and Translation for providing live Spanish translations for our students.

  • Kiana Shoots Photography for capturing all the amazing and beautiful moments at our workshop.

  • The Piña Family for providing delicious tacos for ours students and team.

  • Dalia Santana Zamudio, our workshop coordinator, for all the late nights you put into making this day such a success!

  • Our Prep Scholars, Aileen Soria, Julianna Swilley, Lizeth Calderon, Ashley Acosta, and Ciannah Moreno, for all the time, energy, vulnerability, knowledge, and emotional labor they put into making this day a success.

  • The Educational & Leadership Foundation, for providing the funding and talent to make this day possible (Thank you Flavio Arechiga and Jesus Galvez!).

  • All of our donors and sponsors who made this day possible.

  • And last but not least, all of the students and parents who attended our workshop with open minds and hearts and made this an incredible day for all of us. Without all of you, this workshop is meaningless. We appreciate all of you for reserving a Saturday to spend time and learn with us <3

Please enjoy some of the moments we shared at our workshop, shot by the amazing Kiana Shoots.

Stay Connected

Questions about this article or our workshops more generally? Contact Us. Would you like to support our workshop fund? Donate. Are you a counselor or educational leader that would like us to host a workshop for your students? Contact Dalia.

Meet Our Partners

The Education & Leadership Foundation (ELF) is a 501(c)(3) community benefit non-profit organization with a mission of empowering underrepresented communities through immigration services, equitable educational opportunities, and social justice. ELF provides education, civic engagement, and immigration services which include professional development seminars, leadership development, professional development internships, scholarships, and volunteer opportunities through collaboration with other organizations. To learn more about ELF and their work, please click here.



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