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Parents’ Pride Mingles with Hopes for Higher Ed

Pride in their children and hope they might be the first in their families to go to college, brought area families to the 2nd annual Grand Rapids Bilingual College Fair, sponsored by the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan.

The fair was held recently at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, part of Grand Rapids Public Schools. Representatives from 21 colleges and universities were on hand to answer questions about admission requirements, cost of tuition and housing and financial aid options.

Rachel Lopez said the college fair helps Hispanic parents who speak only Spanish connect their questions with helpful answers.

“Those who are native Spanish speakers may not understand all the aspects of financial aid, or don’t understand the process, so representatives are here to answer those issues,” said Lopez, director of youth & parent services at the Hispanic Center. “We’re helping parents and students feel more comfortable, so college is more accessible.”

College represents a milestone

Enrolling in college represents a milestone for high school students and their parents, said Bridgette Ehlich, youth advocate at the Hispanic Center.

“Most are first generation college students,” Ehlich said. “None of their relatives have graduated from college before them.”

For David Rivera, who was with his wife, Maria, the college fair meant an opportunity to chart a bright future for his 17-year-old daughter, Monica, a senior at Lee High School, in Godfrey-Lee Public Schools.

“In our Latin community there’s a lot of talent,” David Rivera said through an interpreter. “But we’re known to do just high school and then go to work. This fair is letting the community know there is opportunity. It’s good for the youth to come out and see what other possibilities are.”David and Maria Rivera listen to the college options for their daughter, Monica

Monica smiles as she listens to her father.

Employers need bilingual workers

Jorge Borrez smiles too, when he talks of his 17-year-old daughter Ashley’s accomplishments. He is quick to mention she has earned a 3.75 GPA at Union High School in Grand Rapids, which motivated him to come speak with college representatives about available scholarships, tuition costs and the types of degrees they offer.

He knows Ashley’s ability to speak English and Spanish is a sought-after ability with employers across the United States. “It means a lot to me,” Borrez said. “I couldn’t finish my college. Ashley works very hard in school. I’m very happy, very proud.”

Peter Rodriguez, a sophomore at Wyoming High School who plans to major in sports medicine, said his parents raised him to be proud of his Hispanic heritage and not take for granted that he’s fluent in English and Spanish.

“They are proud of me because I have my mind set to go to college,” said Peter. A lot of places want you just because you are bilingual. It opens up a lot of doors.

Challenges are very good

Diana Ramirez, 17, a senior at Union High School, said there never was a question in her family if she would enroll in a college. She plans to major in civil engineering, knowing she’ll have to stay on task with her studies. “I struggle with math, but I like that as a challenge,” she said.

Valentine Pena, 17, also a Union High senior, was there seeking more information. He said he never would have considered majoring in hospitality management had it not been for what he’s learned at the Kent Career Tech Center. He’s in his second year in its culinary program.

“That’s where I realized I’m really good at selling and managing things,” Valentine said.


Hispanic Center of West Michigan

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