by Sophie Archuleta
I had worked so hard for this moment. It was the culmination of seventeen years of late night study sessions and diligently choosing the right class schedule. It was taking college courses starting sophomore year and all of the extracurricular activities I could shove in a semester. Graduating from high school was my ticket out of a small town and the opportunity to choose my own path. College was just on the horizon and I was full of dreams: ambition to create for myself a better life than my mother. Do not get me wrong, my mom is my best friend and the strongest, most resourceful person I know. I would not be the person I am today without her, but her life has not always been the easiest. She, like most parents, wanted better opportunities for me and my siblings. She wanted us to reach our full potential and she chose to sacrifice her own goals for ours. My mother did not go to college, my father was a high school dropout, and only one of my four grandparents had the opportunity to finish high school. The rest had to quit school to go to work, helping provide for the family, or were starting families of their own.
College was always the plan after high school. I loved school and still to this day, I will jump at any chance to learn something new, but navigating college as a first generation college student is very daunting. Yes, my mother was there to support me along the way, but this was all new to her as well. It was the blind, leading the blind. My rural high school encouraged us to attend college, apply for local scholarships, and that was about it. No one helped me explore career options, no one helped me apply for financial aid, no one educated me on student loans, or what it would be like working my way through college, and I really wish I had someone there who could provide support and guidance through one of the biggest transitions of my life.
I look back now and think about what that transition from high school to college would have looked like if I just had someone who understood what I was going through. Someone who could answer those burning questions. Some questions were easy to answer. Where should I buy groceries in my new town? Where would be most cost effective for my college-student budget? Other questions were more complicated. How much financial aid should I accept each semester? What is the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans? I don’t think I’ll make rent this month, what should I do? How am I supposed to afford books each semester? What is a budget and how do I make one for myself? How much can I afford to pay in rent? And so much more. I was blessed enough to have plenty of people in my life that could help answer these questions, but what if there was one, magical person who not only understood what I was going through, but also knew who to send me to when they couldn’t answer the questions I had? Someone that had a vested interest in me, but was able to come from a more objective place (than say my mom or another family member). Someone whose sole job was to ease this major life transition.
Where do we find this unicorn of a person and how would that relationship work? At Communities In Schools (CIS) of Mid-America, we are working on just that. We are taking the experiences of our diverse staff and students to devise a program that can be all of those things I needed when I graduated from high school. I was lucky enough to have the supports I needed to get by, but not all recent graduates are in the same position. The teachers they see at school each day might be the only ones getting them through school. Their basketball coach might be the only person who makes sure they come to school every day. Their CIS of Mid-America Site Coordinator could be the only person making sure they have food over the weekend or lights on at home. What are these students supposed to do when the only supports getting them by go away upon graduation? The Alumni Allies program at CIS of Mid-America is meant to continue that support, providing students with similar supports they were receiving while in school, but with more intention on life after graduation. While college was the right choice for me, we understand that it is not always the right choice for others, and the alumni program is here to help all graduates whether they go on to higher education or right into the work force. The alumni program is there to answer questions, make connections to resources, build a peer network, and ultimately, to provide students with a trusted resource that they can always depend on. The mission of Communities In Schools of Mid-America is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. How would we be empowering students to “achieve in life” if we did not take the time to help them through the toughest transition yet?