In the 1990s, large groups of Native Mexican families came to Oregon with an average of fifth to sixth grade educations. Twenty years later, their children are preparing to go to college without the “familial knowledge” other students have, according to Willan Cervantes, director of Central Oregon Community College’s ¡Avanza! program.
Cervantes’ thesis dealt with the subject of Native Mexican emigration, and now his job deals with the results years later.
“There is a cultural gap,” Cervantes said, “and it has to do with the fact that the students’ parents do not have familial knowledge of what it takes to deal with college.”
Cervantes’ program ¡Avanza! is a college preparation program for Latino students that emphasizes leadership, academia, and cultural relevance. ¡Avanza! is not the first of its kind, but it’s the only program in the region that deals with more than just the physical aspects of college, Cervantes said.
“They get exposure to knowledge they’re not necessarily exposed to in high school,” Cervantes said. “It’s a mental preparation of what to expect… main habits they should focus on in high school.”
¡Avanza!, which means ‘advance’ or ‘move forward’ in Spanish, has registered 86 students in the program to-date – 62 of them since January. It’s offered as a one-credit class one day a week at Bend, Redmond, and Crook County high schools and is taught by Cervantes.
So far, Cervantes is mostly teaching the first section, which is more mental than physical.
“Avanza I is about convincing yourself mentally that this is what you want to do,” Cervantes said. “Not because you’ve been told.”
Thirteen students at Bend High are returning from Fall term and are in Avanza II, which deals more with scholarships, deadlines and financial aid. All students in ¡Avanza! are GPA-average students.
“Latino students that do go to college are receiving attention because of their performance in high school,” Cervantes said. “My students are not record performers, but they might have the potential to perform well.”
Ninety-five percent of Cervantes’ ¡Avanza! students will be the first generation in their families to go to college, Cervantes said.
The most challenging part of the program is reaching out to the parents and getting them involved. Cervantes had parents who wouldn’t hear of him dropping out of high school or not getting a college degree. Under his parents’ guidance and encouragement, Cervantes got a full scholarship to Oregon State University.
“[Cervantes’] connection to Latino culture really serves this program well,” Karen Roth, director of the Multicultural Program, said. “Part of what ¡Avanza! is wanting to do is talk about college success with cultural perspective in mind.”
¡Avanza! started as a statewide program called Oregon Leadership Institute, but it was changed heavily when Cervantes took charge.
“It used to be statewide,” Roth said. “Each campus has morphed that into their own program.”
Cervantes has never organized a program on a widespread level, and is learning every step of the way what works and what does not.
“High school and college are different spheres,” Cervantes said.
However, Cervantes tries to bring the two together and introduce his high school students to the college sphere by having them visit COCC and talk to students from ethnic backgrounds like theirs.
COCC student Mike Lopez was involved with the panel last term and told students what he wishes he would have done.
“I wanted them to learn from my mistakes, do the things I didn’t do that could’ve helped me,” Lopez said. “Right now they should be preparing for college by getting involved in their communities and becoming more passionate about learning.”