High school graduation and a vision for their lives beyond opens up a world of possibility to high school students at Ciudad Nueva
“My favorite part about the Catalyst trip was seeing all of my college options. I didn’t really know if I would be able to go to college, but going on this trip I’ve seen that it will be a hard journey, but I know it’s doable. I now know that college is an option for me!” says Carolina Enriquez.
One of the more dramatic impacts we have seen at Ciudad Nueva is how our students grow through our programs and how those programs help them stay on the path toward high school graduation and beyond.
Our local school district estimates that 77% of the students from our neighborhood elementary school are at risk of not completing high school. At Ciudad Nueva, we have experienced approximately 90% graduation rates with about 50 students completing high school in the last three years alone.
Along with that amazing statistic, however, is a deeper story about helping students see their own potential and expanding their vision for what is possible. Many students haven’t thought of what they might do in their futures — sometimes simply because no one has ever asked them to think about it.
What is a holistic approach?
Instead of directly targeting risky behaviors such as drug abuse or teen pregnancy, our research showed that programs addressing the underlying needs that may be contributing to those behaviors is a more effective way to influence students.
This holistic approach focuses on the person rather than on a problem, which is also a far more inspiring message to convey to our participants: You matter because God made you!
Keisha Branch is our High School Program director, and she has seen how involvement in the Ciudad Nueva community has influenced her students and changed their perspectives.
“By being involved in such a diverse community, they want to know more about what the world has to offer,” says Keisha. “The greatest part about what we do with our students is allowing the kids to understand that the world is very big, and that there is much that they can accomplish and be successful at.”
Planting the vision through opportunity and relationship
We engage students by allowing them a say in what is going on and by providing them with meaningful opportunities to be involved.
The high school program consists of Monday night club, Tuesday night Bible study, and Catalyst, which meets on Thursdays and some Saturdays. Most of the students attend the club night, while Catalyst is a college, career, and life skills program that the students must apply for and be accepted into. You can read more about Catalyst here.
Opportunities to lead and serve
Our high school students have a say in what we discuss in group as valuable members of the group, not simply passive participants. In addition, many of our students volunteer in the middle and elementary school groups. They are learning leadership skills, time management, commitment, and so many other important life skills.
“The biggest impact that I have seen is that the kids want to be here,” says Keisha. “They will come in and volunteer just for something to do, and we love having them here!”
Catalyst also provides many opportunities for students to interact with professionals who introduce them to different career paths and skill sets. During the summer, they also tour three or four college campuses.
Relationships to give them confidence and support
Relationships are at the heart of everything we do at Ciudad Nueva. High school is no exception. In fact, it might be one of the most critical times to connect with students and support them as they make decisions about their futures.
“They sometimes haven’t even thought about it yet,” says Keisha. “But asking them those questions, pushing them to realize decisions made now impact their entire lives is important. When I meet with them I ask, ‘What do you want to do with your future, or where do you see yourself? What lives do you want to impact?’”
They also value the friendships made during this time, creating strong bonds that help provide a support network to help launch them into the next phase of life.
“It makes me so happy and even more passionate when the kids will show up early just to hang out,” says Keisha. “I have kids that text me all the time wanted to hang out or get coffee. The relationships we build are truly impactful and make a difference in their lives.”
Accountability and support are keys to success
Catalyst also provides many kinds of support for students as they move through their junior and senior years of high school. Many students come from families with no college experience or maybe even no high school graduates, so helping them navigate the requirements and paperwork is critical.
Keisha and the other staff help the students fill out college applications and FAFSA forms (financial aid), and help them collect information needed like tax documents. Providing them with deadlines helps them stay accountable to keep the process moving.
But college isn’t the only thing they need help with. We will help them get a driver’s license, open a checking account, or anything else to prepare for their future.
We help them open the door and see a big world outside
Not all students who come through the program and end up graduating from high school move on to college. Some go on to trade schools, and others go directly into the workforce. It is exciting, however, to see many of our students, many the first in their entire family, go on to pursue a college degree.
Karina is one of those students who graduated last year and is now a freshman at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island with a current goal to continue on to medical school after. Her story, which will be featured in our next blog post, is inspiring other students with courage to do the same.
“It is scary to leave home, and sometimes it is hard to dream big!” says Keisha. “Now that Karina has done it, they see that they can do it also. She is so strong. It inspires me to push the kids even more, to help them see that there is more out there for them.”