Benito Juarez High School, a South Side public high school, launched a new program in September 2011 in hopes of increasing college attendance of its students. Araceli Diaz, a college advisor who founded the program, said she hopes this program would help answer many questions not specifically addressed in college prep pamphlets.
Diaz called it Project Outreach, and so far, it has been successful for the students at Benito Juarez High School in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. The program has three major parts in which students can participate.
The first part is a pen pal program where students already enrolled in a college or university volunteer to be matched up with a student from Benito Juarez. The students are coordinated so the college student is majoring in a subject which interests the high school student, so both students have a common ground to explore in their emails.
The pen pal program allows the students to exchange emails and encourages the high school students to ask questions, seek advice, and guidance from their pen pal friend.
The program also works through pictures. The college and university students take pictures once a month of anything that depicts college life. Pictures include anything from organizational meetings to classrooms. Those pictures are then put up around Benito Juarez so the high schoolers can view them.
The last part of the program is a volunteering opportunity for college students to provide guidance for the high schoolers. Diaz reaches out to college students to provide assistance for college application workshops or similar events at Benito Juarez.
The students at Benito Juarez have had a positive response to what their new college pen pals have to say.
“[My pen pal is] encouraging me more to go to college,” said Benito Juarez Senior, Nateli Aguayo. “She tells me how college is, how hard it was for her in the beginning and then how easy she adapts, and for me not to be scared.”
High school senior participant Ariana Vega highly recommends the program to her fellow students because the outcome has been beneficial for her.
“It’s going to help you understand a little more about college and the major that you want to major in,” said Vega.
So far, about ten colleges and universities have students already participating in Project Outreach.
“I’m hoping that just an email is really simple– you can do it whenever, wherever, and that’s what I was hoping would encourage them to ask questions and to find out answers to things they didn’t even know they had questions about,” said Diaz, the program’s creator.
The message of the program is simple, and these high school students may just be looking for that little push of encouragement, said Diaz.
“Even though I’m an undocumented student [my pen pal] has encouraged me to go to college,” said Aguayo. ” I may not have all the benefits that the documented kids have, but she has totally influenced me. It doesn’t matter as long as you have the passion for it.”
Interested volunteers can contact Araceli Diaz at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.