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New College Access Program Offers On-Campus Experiences

Roxbury, Mass. Â- Boston Public Schools simply do not have the resources necessary to make college accessible for all its diverse students, but Sociedad LatinaÂ's innovative new "Campus Connection" presents a powerful solution.

In October, the youth development organization launched the monthly, day-long, Saturday program, which exposes youth to the college experience by placing them on local campuses for workshops and assistance with the college process.

This Saturday, Nov. 19, Wheelock and Simmons colleges will host the program, which runs from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

At Campus Connection, students participate in workshops on college options, career goals and possibilities, personal reflection, and trainings in 21st Century skills. Seniors receive intensive support on applications, financial aid, and essay writing. The program is open to all Boston Public Schools high school students.

Campus Connection Coordinator Katie Magyar said going through the college process this way is like "having one foot in the door already." Youth learn about financial aid from a financial aid officer, hear about campus activities from college students, and spend multiple days at a number of different schools.

"By having these opportunities early on and consistently in high school, their knowledge base will be so much more developed, and theyÂ'll be extremely prepared to make decisions about where they want to go to school and how they will get there," Magyar said.

Workshops are led by college students, many of whom are students of color, providing youth with role models, and a relevant and cultural perspective on college life.

The first Campus Connection day featured students from WheelockÂ's La Herencia Latina; participants then visited Mass College of Art and Design, where students from the schoolÂ's OLAA (Organization of Latin American Affairs) were guides. Future Campus Connection Saturdays will visit Emmanuel and its HUELLAS (Helping Unite Emmanuel Latinos to Lead and Achieve Success) group, Northeastern, Boston College, Harvard, and others.

"One of the great things at Wheelock recently is the growth of our Latino population," said Will Morales, WheelockÂ's Senior Director of Community Partnerships. "ItÂ's great to have students like those in La Herencia Latina share what itÂ's like to be a Latino student on campus. TheyÂ've been thrilled to provide these experiences to high school students looking forward to college."

Campus Connection exposes youth to college life and helps prepare them to be academically successful at the college level, a vital service. It is a new component of Sociedad LatinaÂ's Mission Possible! College and Career Pathways program, created in 2007 after years of watching community Latino and African American youth struggle to make it through high school and for those who did finish, flounder with no prospects of college or meaningful employment.

While national Latino college enrollment rose by 15% in 2008, fewer than 25% graduate, and only 13% of young adult Latinos have a bachelorÂ's compared to 39% of their White peers. Youth receive limited support from guidance counselors in BPS while planning for college; in 2009 the district only employed 55 counselors for more than 56,000 students. And since more than 90% of students will be the first in their families to attend, they and their parents often completely unfamiliar with college and the college process. Campus Connection supports youth every step of the way from exploration, to applications, to the financial aid process.