By Robert Spano
Special to the Immokalee Bulletin
For many teenagers in Immokalee, their only experience with college is what they’ve seen on TV or in movies – monotonous professors lecturing from a crowded auditorium, students packing football stadiums on game day, and fraternity or sorority parties that get out of control.
That’s not the reality, but how would students know otherwise?
Since 2007, students in Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps Program have been granted opportunities to attend pre-college summer experiences to help bridge the gap between high school and college. In 2017, thanks to generous supporters Charles and Bunny Salisbury, this program was expanded to include an increased number of students and was formally named the E.G. Salisbury Tutor Corps Summer Academy. This summer, the program sent 25 Immokalee High School students on expense-paid, pre-college summer experiences where they lived on campus and participated in academic programs ranging from one to six weeks in duration.
Students recently gathered with their mentors and Guadalupe Center staff and board members to share their first college experiences through PowerPoint presentations. The evening began with the students popping up out of their seats to declare their many “firsts” – first time on an airplane, first time on a college campus, first time doing their own laundry, first time away from home.
Junior Christal Hidalgo took her first flight to reach the University of Missouri, and emerged from a second session at the University of Florida certified in CPR. Senior Karen Reyes Santos spent three weeks at Brown University, getting an exclusive look at new software programs being developed in the field of neuroscience. She joked with the audience that she could now read MRIs and perform the card tricks she had learned.
“This experience is one that I’ll treasure forever and never forget,” Santos said. “The friendships I made I will always remember, and the kindness I was shown by both Brown and the Guadalupe Center is one that I hope to reflect every day.”
Students visited Brown University, University of Missouri, Syracuse University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Marquette University and other prestigious institutions to study business, medicine, leadership, engineering, forensic science and other potential college majors. Summer sessions also gave students lessons in the basics of college life, time management and stepping out of one’s comfort zone.
“Exposing our Tutor Corps students to higher education can be a life-changing moment for them,” said Dawn Montecalvo, Guadalupe Center president. Senior Christian Sorianno-Reyes thought he would enjoy a career in forensic science, and his stay at Syracuse firmly cemented that belief.
“I left my comfort zone and set off on a journey of a lifetime,” he said. “I now know that this is exactly what I want to do in college and in life.”
Gisselle Hernandez, a junior, attended the University of Florida for two weeks. Although her studies focused on the College of Medicine, students also learned to be careful online because potential employers will Google job applicants and review their social media posts. Hernandez, who also attended University of Missouri, shared the most valuable lesson she learned on her college visits.
“During one of our daily discussion sessions, we heard from a man who had grown up in poverty and had a rough life, but he took his chances and got to the top, and now he is a professor at the University of Missouri,” Hernandez said. “I know now that I could do the same.”
For more information, please call 239-657-7711 or visit GuadalupeCenter.org
Robert Spano is vice president of programs for Guadalupe Center in Immokalee, a nonprofit organization with a mission of breaking the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee.