The OchoWana Experience

February 28th through March 2nd 12 Chiawana GEAR UP students from Ochoa Middle School and Chiawana High School attended the annual Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP) Conference in Tacoma, Washington. Led by Site Director Rafael De Leon in partnership with Chiawana Counselor Florentino Barrera, teacher Amanda Ramirez and GEAR UP Academic Instructional Specialist Kasey Manning, students attended the conference with the mission that they would leave feeling empowered and with knowledge of the power of higher education.

Arriving early Thursday afternoon after a long trip from Pasco, students checked-in to Tacoma’s Murano Hotel where the conference was held. They were greeted by LEAP volunteers and staff. After arriving, students listened to opening speaker Leobardo Carmona, a recent high school graduate and high achieving student. Leobardo set the tone for the conference – encouraging students to work hard, despite any adversity, and believe in the opportunity of higher education. Students left the opening ceremony inspired and were invited to attend a variety of workshops such as: “Improving the Educational Systems to be Inclusive of DREAMers,” “Transition for Student to Professional,” and “Be the Solution: Becoming a Change Agent in Your School, Community, and Career” to name a few.

Chiawana students Kimberly Ruesga, Lizette Parra, and Maria Yepez attended a session called “The Power of Digital Storytelling – Creative Ways to be Heard and Create Change.” The students viewed examples and learned techniques to develop their own digital stories. When asked what they thought of the session, they said that it was meaningful. They left the session feeling empowered and encouraged to share their concerns and stories to benefit their communities and peers at Chiawana. Specifically, the students thought of ways they could use their new knowledge to “relieve the pressure on students to do drugs at school.” It was impressive to see students excited to enact positive change.

On Friday, the team traveled to Olympia, along with Ochoa Middle School 8th graders and GEAR UP Site Director Mario Miranda and Student Success Specialist Lidia Torres. In the state capitol students met with local State Representatives Maureen Walsh and Terry Nealy, as well as State Senator Mike Hewitt. Students were encouraged to share their concerns and inform legislators of issues that impact them most in their communities. Students raised concerns on topics including teen pregnancy, state testing and state financial aid for undocumented Washington residents. In addition to meeting with state legislators, students heard from Washington State Governor Jay Inslee as he voiced his support for advancement and empowerment for Latino/a students in Washington State.

After returning to Tacoma for dinner, students were addressed by Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez, the first Mexican-American to serve in his role in the state of Washington. Justice Gonzalez’ speech was focused on encouraging students to pursue higher education as well as to validate Latino contributions and influence in Washington State. After Justice Gonzalez’ address, students enjoyed “Noche Cultural” where students from across the state were invited to celebrate by exhibiting their talents in music, poetry and dance.

The conference ended early Saturday morning with thanks. Students had gained meaningful knowledge of how the state government operates and awareness of how to effectively advocate for themselves, their families and communities. They listened to many people share stories of overcoming adversity and achieving success because of hard work, determination and education – stories similar to what our students experience. From speakers, community leaders and government officials our students were encouraged to advocate for themselves and their communities. GEAR UP students left the conference feeling validated and empowered.

However, the learning did not stop there! Our students took a brief, but powerful look into the University of Washington. Meeting up with former GEAR UP students was great, but, the fact that they were also huge peer mentors was a big plus. Rocio Olivera (Pasco GEAR UP) and Luisa Manzo (Moses Lake GEAR UP) gave our students a tour of campus and discussed the importance of higher education with students. Immediately, this was recognized as a huge academic milestone for all. Conversations revolved around tips and techniques to do well in high school, student life, scholarships, specialized programs and financial aid drove the tone.

By the end of our session, students were asking questions, curious and motivated to head back to Pasco to dominate the classroom setting. Overall the trip was a huge success. Thanks team!

Tutors are priceless!

The GEAR UP program here at Chiawana High School has enjoyed some thoughtful feedback from parents in our community.  With improved parent outreach as a goal of our program, Riverhawk seniors, juniors and sophomores have been taking advantage of our tutoring services this year in a remarkable way.  As a result, we are not only reaching more students, but we are hearing from parents what they think of our program and what College outreach initiatives offer their children.

At the Chiawana Open House Oct. 22nd parents approached the GEAR UP table to thank our staff and tutors for providing special care and services to their students.  One senior parent thanked GEAR UP staff for the care and mentoring our own Rafael De Leon and Cassandra Sauceda have provided for his daughter over the past 4 years of her high school career.  This week, another parent complimented our afternoon tutors Lupe Carillo, Vanessa Alvarez and Shelcy Martinez for the support they offer her daughter when she stays in the Talon Room after school.  She said that her daughter feels encouraged and empowered by our college tutors and that her daughter is inspired to think about college and explore undergraduate opportunities.

We are appreciative to the parents in our community and leadership from our Academic Instructional Specialist, Kasey Manning in the Talon Room for their caring participation that drives our program to continue to work tirelessly for the academic success and empowerment of our students.  GEAR UP would like to thank our parents and students for their hard work and positive regard that make the Talon Room the place it is: a safe space that provides students with academic support, enrichment and meaningful mentoring.

ASWSU speaks with GEAR UP students.

Wednesday morning, Chiawana High School students - preparing to begin their homework in the GEAR UP Talon Room - were given a special treat. Washington State University Student Regent Rafael Pruneda spoke to a packed space of high school students from 10th-12th grade about his journey to college and how our students could achieve their academic goals. Rafael’s impromptu visit to the Talon Room during HawkTime came as a pleasant surprise to students. Rafael was able to relate with our students and share his knowledge of higher education with them in a way that our students could appreciate. Students listened with rapture as Rafael described how college had always been a goal of his, but how getting there can feel like an overwhelming mission. He referenced what he called “ganas” – that if you put in the effort you can achieve your goals, you can go to college and you can have opportunity.

In addition to hard work and effort, Rafael told Riverhawk students about opportunities that Washington State University provides for students to be involved in organizations that represent their culture and heritage. He reminded students that academic success in college can be supported by involvement in various WSU student communities and unions. Rafael listed examples of activities on campus that heightened his cultural awareness and education – peaking our students’ interest as they heard about groups they may identify with. Rafael empowered our students to be proud of who they are and where they come from - and that at Washington State University they would be valued members of the campus community.

The GEAR UP staff here at Chiawana is thankful to WSU Student Regent Rafael Pruneda for sharing his journey to college and university experience at Washington State with our students. Our students were able to ask Rafael questions that were meaningful to them and at the conclusion of the period they left the Talon Room feeling empowered, validated and that going to college is an opportunity for their future.

Preparing Riverhawks through testing...!

As a new school, Chiawana’s college going culture has become quite the holistic learning environment. The school and GEAR UP have continued to grow, learn from its mistakes and have taken advantage of what has been working well when it comes to student achievement. This hard work lends itself to a synergy that is consistent and motivating for students to succeed; moreover, prepare and be ready for a post-secondary educational future. Recently, Chiawana High School and GEAR UP felt a need to partner up once again in order to give our students an opportunity that has set a new tradition for our Riverhawks!

Staffulty and students alike were able to transform their local high school into a modern day testing center on October 17, 2012. Successfully we were able to test a total of 858 students in both the ASVAB for seniors (218) and the PSAT (740) for junior and sophomore scholars. This action packed day allowed our students to experience what these tests are like in real time; to include, helping students see what they need to improve upon and better understand in order to reach personal collegiate goals! At first you could feel the nervous tension, but after a few problems, all students got in the groove and began to ask when results would be delivered.

With excitement, we anticipate an increase in Surescore test prep registrations, the need for dissecting information with students and a more comfortable ease when it comes to test taking. GEAR UP will continue raising the bar and working with students in helping them set realistic goals, advising and college preparation as needed with a little more attention to detail in the scholarship search.

Congratulations Riverhawks. You are that much closer to the first day of your future. Keep climbing, it is fun to watch!

How "Think Eastern" became a dream!

On Saturday October 20th Chiawana High School students attended “thinkEastern 2012,” an event at Eastern Washington University. Upon arrival, 14 Riverhawk seniors were welcomed by EWU students and staff. Throughout the morning, students attended breakout sessions centered on financial aid, extra-curricular activities, as well as academic and student support services. In the afternoon, students attended the EWU Academic and Student Services fair. Chiawana scholars meandered through the many student service representatives asking meaningful questions concerning their career and educational goals. Students took charge of their learning and information by independently approaching tables and representatives to inquire about how services support students.

As the day was winding-down, students were given a special opportunity. Led by GEAR UP site director and EWU alumni, Rafael De Leon, students experienced an intimate and unique look at the university. Students toured the campus, the recreational center, visited the library and the locations of different academic departments and services. Upon the conclusion of the tour, Chiawana faculty and staff, GEAR UP staff and students gathered in the EWU Library to discuss what students learned and thought of the events from the day.

Feedback from Chiawana’s seniors was overwhelmingly positive. Riverhawk students sought counsel regarding financial aid and their academic opportunities. For Madina Abdikadir, attending college seemed a daunting task. This was her first campus visit with GEAR UP since she attended Chiawana High School. When asked about the day she said that she was nervous at the beginning, but that she began to get more and more excited – not just about Eastern Washington University – but about attending college in general. She remarked that her favorite part of “thinkEastern” was when she visited the student services fair. She commented that she felt welcome and empowered after speaking with Eastern representatives. She now views college not just as a possibility, but as a requirement for her future.

The campus visit was a success. GEAR UP staff was proud of Chiawana seniors and pleased to provide a meaningful opportunity to educate students about undergraduate programs. Thank you to CHS teacher Lindalee Vancil and all GEAR UP and Chiawana staff who took the time to ensure that this campus visit was exceptional for our students.

WSU Tri-Cities
WSU Early Outreach