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‘This opportunity is priceless’


About 20 Lee High School students are getting up early this summer, catching the bus to head to Ferris State University’s downtown campus to attend class and complete about three hours of homework each evening.

The hard work will pay off: after eight weeks, they will have seven college credits and automatic acceptance to Ferris. They will also be more prepared for college, equipped with important study skills, and the potential to bump up their SAT and ACT scores. Those are major goals of the Promesa Summer Success Program, which consists mostly of, but is not limited to, Latino students.

“I wanted to do something different this summer. I was interested in getting college credits,” said junior Melanie Gonzalez, who attended a recent orientation session for Promesa with her parents, Adela and Rafael Gonzalez.

Her mother’s opinion: “It’s a good opportunity to get a start on college and a good job after college,” Melanie translated from Spanish.

Promesa is a program of Ferris’ Center for Latino Studies, and is tailored for students who could use preparation for college by focusing on math and reading skills, areas of need identified among the Hispanic population. The center has offered a head start to college for the past six years, with Lee signing on this year. Cohorts also include, 25 to 30 Grand Rapids, 25 to 30 Holland and about a dozen  Oceana County students heading into their junior and senior year.

“This opportunity is priceless,” said Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Kevin Polston. “If the students complete the program they are guaranteed college admission. That’s huge.”

From left, parents Rafael and Adela Gonzalez learn about Promesa with daughter, Melanie Gonzalez

Becoming Familiar with College Expectations

Students will complete Ferris’ Read 106 and Math 110 courses, which teach math strategies and reading skills that cross over into other subjects, like how to read college-level textbooks. If students complete the courses with Cs or higher, they will automatically be accepted at Ferris and receive a $1,000 scholarship. They will also be eligible for another $2,000 Ferris scholarship. Credits are transferable to many other colleges and universities as well.

Students will also be exposed to downtown institutions like museums and City Hall, helping them get acquainted with the area surrounding campus, which includes Kendall College of Art and Design. They will tour the Ferris campus in Big Rapids as well.

Paulo Zepeda attends Promesa orientation with his mother, Otilia Sanchez

The Lee cohort is funded by Ferris with support from the Meijer Foundation, and the Grand Rapids cohort is funded through Believe2Become, an initiative of the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation. Promesa was created in partnership with the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan.

“Everything about this program is about empowering youth,” said Tony Baker, director of community engagement for Ferris and a Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education member.

For many students, the courses offer a way to bypass community college and head right to a four-year university, said Kaylee Moreno, executive director for the Center for Latino Studies. About 60 percent of Promesa students enroll in Ferris right after high school.

“It really helps students get the skills necessary for early college success,” Moreno said, noting the boost in confidence it also gives them. “A lot of students start to see themselves as college-ready.”

She said the program also helps students “get to and through college using cultural strengths and identities.”

Students start viewing themselves as college material, Baker said.

“Our whole goal isn’t just to teach them math. We are talking about empowering students and getting them to feel their cultural backgrounds are an asset, not an impediment.”

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Hispanic Dropout Rate Hits New Low, College Enrollment At New High

Kaylee Moreno, executive director for the Center of Latino Studies (in stripes), introduces Lee High School students to Promesa

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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