Yale to host Houston students

In partnership with a highly successful college readiness program, Yale will host over 100 first generation, low-income students from Houston public schools for a week-long program this July to entice them to apply to Ivy League and other top-tier universities.

The EMERGE Fellowship, was founded in 2010 and provides college counseling to high-achieving first generation students to encourage them to apply to highly ranked colleges. One hundred percent of EMERGE students have been admitted to top-tier universities, according to Leah Barton ’97, EMERGE’s board chair.

Three EMERGE seniors have matriculated at Yale, joining the class of 2018. One future Yalie, Edgar Avina ’18, has been featured on NPR for his participation in the program, which has garnered national attention for its track record of sending every participant to a selective university.

“We’ve gotten kids to apply to colleges they would have never considered,” said co-founder Rick Cruz ’07. “They apply mostly to state schools and they get in, which is great, but they don’t look out of state at all.”

The program provides select students with one-on-one college consulting, SAT tutoring, application support and college tours throughout their high school careers. Barton said this is important because in Texas public schools there are 500 students to every college counselor, leaving many without the advice and support they need

“We’re exposing kids to tremendous need-blind schools they’ve never heard of, and that offer great financial aid, something many students don’t expect from top universities,” said Susana Rosas, EMERGE’s Executive Director.

At Yale, the students will receive intensive application coaching, learn about dealing with  “culture shock” and get a taste of campus life.

In addition to showcasing Yale’s resources for low-income and minority students and offering intensive college application counseling, the program aims to expose students to opportunities that await them out of state. Giving them the experience of being on a college campus away from home will help students and their families feel more comfortable with schools out of state, Barton said.

“Many kids in Hispanic families aren’t allowed to go out of state because families want to keep them close,” Avina said in an interview with KUHF, a Houston radio station, “Personally for me, I’m applying to one Texas school. I told my mom, ‘I’m drawing a 500 mile circle and I want to get out of it.’”

Though EMERGE is paying for the costs of the program at Yale, Ezra Stiles College Master Steven Pitti ’91, who helped bring the program to Yale, said the University made sure the costs were within their budget, and individual Yale professors, administrators and students have donated their time to help run the program.

Last summer, EMERGE brought students to several top-tier universities on the East Coast. At their stop in New Haven, a panel of first-generation Yale students greeted them. Pitti and Assistant Yale College Dean Rosalinda Garcia later visited HSID, where they worked with students and educators to develop a connection with Yale.

“When I visited [Houston Independent School District] and saw what EMERGE was doing with first generation and low income students, I was inspired by meeting the students who were excited about learning, eager to learn about colleges like Yale and truly supported by EMERGE educators,” Pitti said

Cruz, an assistant superintendent in the Houston Independent School District, founded the program as a nonprofit while he was teaching underserved fifth graders in Houston through Teach For America. While teaching, he observed that a preponderance of high-potential students were either not pursuing higher education or funneling into less selective state schools due to a lack of knowledge about the college application process and financial aid.

Not only were these students aiming too low, they were less likely to be successful at these schools, which have less support for minority and low-income students, Barton said. According to Teach for America Houston, an average of 42 percent of low income or minority students will graduate from a typical four-year university. In the Ivy League, 93 percent graduate.

In 2010, Cruz collaborated with fellow educators to found EMERGE at Cesar Chavez High School to encourage first generation and low income students to reach for top-tier universities. Despite administrators’ initial concern that students would not be interested, Cruz received 125 applications for the program that first year. Of those, he picked a handful that he believed to have the highest potential.

All the students from that first group went on to prestigious schools like Harvard, Dartmouth and MIT with comprehensive financial aid packages. The program’s success inspired teachers at other schools to start chapters.

Since then, HISD has partnered with the program, with 14 high schools now hosting EMERGE chapters that serve over 300 students.

Cruz left EMERGE in 2013 when he was promoted to assistant superintendent for HISD, overseeing all college readiness programs in the school district. That year, HISD superintendent Terry Grier expanded the program and hired five full-time program managers to aid students.

Barton said she envisions the program spreading to the remaining 16 schools in the district, then to surrounding school districts and then eventually to other cities across the country.

According to EMERGE’s website, 3 percent of students at top-tier universities are from the bottom quartile income level, while 74 percent are from the top quartile.

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