Challenging, Supporting and Preparing Yuma Students

Author: Helios Education Foundation

July 9, 2016

April Garcia entered Vista High School in Yuma four years ago with specific plans not to attend college. 

“I was going to graduate from high school and be a truck driver,” she said.

Viridiana Rosas Avila always knew she would go to college. But the plan when she entered Yuma’s Cibola High four years ago was to graduate and enroll in school in Mexicali, Baja California, where her parents went to college.

Thanks to Ready Now Yuma, an initiative of Helios Education Foundation and Yuma Union High School District,  both students will enroll in Arizona institutions of higher education this semester.

April plans to study hotel and restaurant management at Arizona Western College. Viridiana intends to enroll in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona and study public administration. She also plans to study overseas before college graduation – in the Dominican Republic and in London.

The students say Ready Now Yuma not only helped them prepare academically for higher education, it helped them put together financial plans to be able to afford future academics.

Ready Now Yuma began when this year’s graduates entered ninth grade. A year ago, it was recognized as one of 230 Bright Spots in Hispanic Education by the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics.

Yuma Union Assistant Principal Jennifer Pennington has been a Ready Now Yuma? coach since the program began. She said she enjoyed watching students’ confidence – and academic skills – develop over the four years.
Many students, she recalled, arrived in high school wanting to go to college but “they had no idea how to get there.”

The program requires all students, whether they thought they wanted to attend postsecondary school or not, to develop college-ready reading, writing and math skills.

“Most arrived having no idea how to read or write academically,” she said. “They wrote as if they were speaking. We worked on changing their mindset so they could do more formal writing.”

All students also did research papers and started in Algebra I during freshman year. Those that started out behind were given tutoring to catch up. The assignments were part of the challenging Cambridge Curriculum the district has adopted.

Yuma Union High School District Superintendent Antonia Badone has described Ready Now Yuma as a cultural shift for the district, which is more than 80 percent Latino. Many students’ parents did not attend college and do not know what is required to get in and succeed.

Pennington noted that public schools traditionally have focused on helping high-achieving students get into college and low achievers earn enough credits to graduate.

“Sometimes it’s the students in the middle that get left out,” she said. Ready Now Yuma has helped those students take the classes they need to prepare for postsecondary studies.

Both April and Viridiana described high school in Yuma as challenging, but also noted that they were not aware until recently that they were doing anything special. After all, everyone in the district was taking the same hard classes.

“No, none of our teachers told us about it,” said April, who called high school “the most challenging but rewarding years of my life” in an essay she wrote about Ready Now before graduating.

“There were several rocky points but giving up was not an option,” she wrote.

Ready Now Yuma also encourages students to explore careers through high school Career and Technical Education classes. In the classes, April realized she would enjoy a hospitality career.

Viridiana explored careers through a variety of programs including Upward Bound and SkillsUSA. After she served in a student position at Yuma City Hall, she decided to pursue a career in public administration.

Her parents are both college graduates from universities in Mexico and her father works for the Yuma County Engineer.

“I know that public administration is a solid occupation,” she said. “There is security in having a job that is stable.”

Like many Yuma parents, Viridiana’s mother and father were surprised to learn through Ready Now Yuma’s college planning activities, that the University of Arizona would be affordable for their family. Viridiana has already earned college credits in algebra, English and psychology and has a full-tuition scholarship.

April plans to live and home and work as she attends college. Her family also is pleased with her plans.

“My mom is happy that I am just doing something,” she said.

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