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Rio Grande Valley alumni mentor students on going to college

By Steve Taylor
Rio Grande Guardian

PHARR, RGV – University should not be thought of as conveyor belt that churns out students for the workforce but rather a fun place to grow up and have a life-transforming experience.

This is the message a group of PSJA North alumni have for students who participate in their intensive summer mentorship program. The program is known as PSJA CSLAP, or the PSJA College Scholarship Leadership Awareness Program.

“I would say the ‘Why’ is the most important part of what we do because the actual ‘What’ and ‘How,’ can be covered very easily,” said Thomas Ray Garcia, who co-founded PSJA CSLAP three years ago with fellow alums from PSJA North High School. The ‘Why’ in this case refers to the question, why does a student go to college?

“I think the ‘Why’ really inspires and motivates the students to move on beyond getting college credits, or trying to get college out of the way, which I think is a common attitude in the Rio Grande Valley, where college, understandably, might seem like a burden because of the cost or the time issue, not wanting to take time away from family or work,” Garcia said. “We are trying to redevelop this idea of what college could be, the love of learning and this idea that you go to college to have a transformative experience that really can be fun.”

Garcia, a rising senior at Princeton University who was born and bred in Pharr, said he and his colleagues believe they have designed a curriculum to fit the needs of high school students. “We have some seminars where we sit around a round table and talk about finding meaning behind why we go to college. We go into the ‘Why’ and not just the ‘What’ and the ‘How.’ Then we get to the nitty gritty aspects of, this is what an application looks like. We give them materials we designed on our own, about how to get your voice out in an essay or get the confidence to go up to a teacher or counselor to get that support you need during senior year, finding scholarships, finding the most popular scholarships and getting the support of students who have won those scholarships.”

Garcia said the emphasis given to ‘Why’ is important for PSJA CSLAP because of the way education has changed at PSJA and other Valley school districts.

“With PSJA’s early college system I think this is a really important mindset to have since students are saving money already, by going to college with an associate’s degree. This big ‘Why’ question needs to be answered earlier, given that many students are going to be entering college or university as a junior. We need to give students a better support system very early, and have the right mindset in place early, as they enter the college campus.”

Garcia and his colleagues approached PSJA in early 2013 about setting up a mentorship program. Garcia said he wanted to give back to the community that raised him and thought that the best way would be help students avoid the difficulties he faced when he decided to aim for a prestigious, out of state university…

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