By Matthew Hamilton
The College Pathways program has expanded this year to meet the recommendations of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Through partnering with the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Director of Academic Support Judy Argumedo, the program has expanded from 100 to 127 students, and added one more college visit as well as a new service called the College Pathways Mentors. The program has also transitioned from the direction of former guidance counselor Monica Espinoza to the direction of guidance counselor Myesha Compton.
Some students thought that the program had been eliminated when Espinoza left Gunn fol- lowing the 2014-2015 school year. One even took to Facebook to voice her displeasure with the administration. Black Student Union President senior Menna Mulat has been in the program since her freshmen year and thought that taking away the program would hurt minority students at Gunn. In her Facebook post last summer, she expressed her displeasure with the administra- tion. The post was liked, shared and became viral among Gunn students, many of whom agreed that the program should not be taken away.
Assistant Principal Heather Wheeler, who oversees the program along with Assistant Principal Tara Keith, was disappointed to hear that so many students believed the program was going to leave along with Espinoza. She understood the worry that the program could leave along with Espinoza, but wanted to emphasize that the administration never had any intention of eliminating the program.
“I can’t speak to what Ms. Espinoza told her students because she did not speak to me,” Wheeler said. “This rumor that went around was based off of informa- tion we did not know about. We publicized College Pathways at Back-to-School Night and at Freshman Orientation, so we have been letting people know we still have it. We have been communicating that we still have the program as best we could.”
Under Compton, the program has expanded to help as many students as possible in applying to college. According to Compton, most Gunn students come from families where at least one parent has attended college and is familiar with the college application process. College Pathways was created to help the students who came from families without that experience.
“There is a lack of understanding that there are some families who don’t come with the same experience—not that they do not have the same motivation, they just don’t have the same exposure or experience,” Compton said. “We have an obligation to level the playing field, and in order to do that, you do have to provide some focused support.”
According to Wheeler, the expansion came in response to a recommendation from the WASC committe calling for more equitable support at Gunn. For Wheeler, this means instead of giving every student the same sup- port and expecting the same results, students receive the support they need which means building in more support for some students. “If a student cannot get an outside tutor, we offer tutors here to them in the College Pathways program,” Wheeler said. “Some students cannot go to outside college counselors so we provide that support from somebody who has been through the college application process.”
The focused support comes in many forms. Compton pulls College Pathways participants out of class in small groups based on grade level to meet with them. In the meetings she is able to give them more counseling on top of what they receive from their assigned counselors. Compton exposes the students to what is required to be deemed ready for college—from test scores to grades and how students should be preparing for college at each grade level. For students that are not able to pay for SAT prep or ACT prep classes, the program is able to offer SAT and ACT prep courses at no cost or reduced cost.
This year, community members also volunteer to tutor students who are not receiving college preparatory grades. Sponsored by PAUSD, members of the community tutor students who are struggling and cannot afford to go to private tutors. Community members also volunteer to edit seniors’ college essays before they send in their applications. According to Wheeler, these community members are people who have both been to college and also represent the diversity of the College Pathways program.
In addition, students in the program go on college field trips to show them the diversity of schools. Compton values exposure to colleges and wanted to expand that aspect of the program after becoming the leader of the College Pathways program.
In previous years, the pro- gram only visited two colleges, but this year the program will visit three to show students a broader range of colleges.
“Many of the families do not have the resources to take their kids to visit colleges, so this year, we are taking kids to visit one Cal state school, one University of California school and one private school,” Compton said. “The idea is that through [this program] 9-12 grade students should have the opportunity to visit at least 10 colleges.”
Another product of expansion this year is the College Pathways mentor program. Juniors in College Pathways are paired with a staff member to mentor them through the college application process. Mentors guide them beyond just academics.
According to Wheeler, a large part of academic success is feeling accepted at school and having an adult at school that a student knows he or she can talk to. The assigned teacher is meant to be the adult that a student in the College Pathways program can talk to about any topic.
“The goal is to develop the relationships with staff members and to recognize that it is very important for all students to have an adult on campus that they can talk to,” Wheeler said. “A really important piece of academic success is feeling like you belong and you have that support. The program also provides support for students who are historically underrepresented and may not have the same resources outside of school.”
Students in College Pathways have benefited from the knowledge gained from the program. Mulat has been in the program since her freshman year and believes the program was extremely beneficial for her.
“It has been very helpful because [as] minorities, we do not have a lot of opportunities to go and get help, but College Pathways lets you know about each and every thing you have to know about college,” Mulat said.
Mulat did not know where to take SAT or ACT prep classes, but through the program she was able to attend classes. She believes that she would not have been able to apply to 10 historically black colleges and universities if she had not been in the program. Mulat is not alone in her appreciation of the College Pathways program.
Gunn alum Mauricio Sanchez also felt the program was vital to his success in high school. While in the program he was given the confidence that he could go to college.
“After my time in College Pathways, they made me believe I could go to any college I felt I fit at,” Sanchez said. “It was a very important program. I originally had no faith in going to college. I figured I would graduate and just start working, but that program, they were on top of me and made sure I did all my work and that I believed I could get into college.”