“I like the sense of urgency… It really does feel like a bootcamp except it’s to get ready for the Fall!”- Current leader participating at El Rancho High School’s Senior Boot Camp.
For the past year and a half, I have had the pleasure of working for the Be A Leader Foundation, advocating for more college opportunities and supporting a cohort of 100 students at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, as they navigated the college application process. Through a partnership between the Be A Leader Foundation and Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera (a non-profit led by Jacki & Gilbert Cisneros with the mission of having one college degree in every household in Pico Rivera), the Senior Boot Camp was funded and focused on recruiting rising seniors to participate in an intensive ”boot camp-like” summer program that would help them get a head start on college applications. Through this eight week summer program, I guided our students through the ins and outs of the college application process. We discussed the four systems of higher education, the importance of applying to selective schools, brainstormed and drafted essays for the UC personal statement prompts and the Common App, researched scholarships and programs that would help with financial aid and so much more.
Each week, we had our leaders attend three-hour workshops to work on one of the many parts to their applications, all while making time to meet with me for one-on-one personal college counseling sessions to ensure that each student drafted a college plan. In addition to the pre-work for the actual applications, we included College Exploration Days that would provide students the opportunity to be exposed to different college environments as well as hear from current college students at each respective institution. Last summer we visited six schools: USC, Whittier College, CSULA, UCI, Chapman University and CSUF. Even the colleges we visited were purposeful: students were exposed to colleges from different systems, public and private, so that they could compare first hand the different support services provided as well as the different academic programs available at each school. The Senior Boot Camp summer program is only part one of a year of intensive college planning as leaders were required to commit to one Saturday per month during the academic year to continue learning and planning for the future. While I am the first to admit that we must provide personal college counseling to students early on, the beauty to Senior Boot Camp is that we meet our students where they are at and take it from there. Rather than continuing the criticism behind our current school system’s way of providing last minute information on college when it is too late, we choose to do whatever it takes to help our students make their college dreams a reality, even if it means catching them up in a short time frame.
Yes, it was hard work. Students gave up their entire summer to writing personal statements and finalizing an application that truly packaged their personal brand in a way that made them stand out. As if that feat was not difficult enough, the majority were first-generation students with very limited exposure to the college experience, meaning more work was necessary to get them ready. Still, thanks to the Senior Boot Camp, students are able to end the summer fully aware of what they needed to submit competitive applications making all the countless hours of editing and proofreading essays worthwhile.
This past May, my first full cohort of seniors completed the Be A Leader Senior Boot Camp at El Rancho High School. While many students joked about how much they would miss my daily emails with reminders for upcoming deadlines and scholarships, the one consistent reflection was how much they had learned in such little time and how prepared they felt for their futures.
Our Senior Boot Camp is not the answer to all of our college readiness issues. However, it should be seen as a possible solution for immediate action. The program itself is replicable. All it takes is time, a trained college counselor, a strong network of advocates, and a cohort of students ready to be sponges and take it all in. I am always happy to share the curriculum I used as my goal is to one day hear from rising seniors all over Los Angeles share how excited they are to participate in their own Senior Boot Camp.
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