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Juntos 4‑H Program Helps NYC Teen Prepare for Her Future

by Denise Phelps
October 2, 2018 12:00 PM

Patricia is a 16-year-old 4‑H’er from New York City who is passionate about the performing arts. She is also a proud American with Dominican heritage, who grew up speaking Spanish with her family.  She has always valued her education and earned good grades, but for a long time her parents didn’t involve themselves with school.

“I think because of the language barrier it can be really hard. Parents want to be engaged but they don’t always know how,” says Patricia.

For her and her mom, being part of the Juntos 4‑H family has made all the difference.

“Juntos makes you feel comfortable and supported.  [My parents] see that other parents are figuring it all out as well,” she explains.

Since she was a little girl, Patricia knew she wanted to go to college, but it felt like a far-off ambition, not a goal she needed to be actively planning for. When she found the Juntos 4‑H program during 7th grade, however, her whole perspective changed.

She learned that her state test scores that year would be a huge determining factor in her acceptance into high school. New York City, like many metropolitan areas, has public high schools with specialties, and eighth graders submit applications to schools across the city instead of attending the one closest to them.

This high school system is a tremendous opportunity for youth to begin pursuing something they are passionate about early, but it also presents obstacles for those who don’t know how to navigate the complex school application and selection processes.  This can directly impact their later opportunities for higher education.

Between 2000 and 2015, the rate of Latino high school graduates who attended college more than doubled, but there is still an achievement gap between these young adults and their peers. Just 45% of Latino young adults who enter college complete their degree in six years, compared to 74% of white students and 66% of African American students. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce, a major contributing factor is that Hispanic youth are more reliant on their high schools to help them navigate the college application process, and the counseling services that each high school provides varies dramatically. How competitive a high school is and the services it offers ultimately impacts Latino youth’s chances of attending one of the 500 most selective colleges. These institutions have much higher graduation rates – around 80% – giving those students who are accepted an immediate advantage.

Juntos 4‑H is working to address this gap by helping families and young people navigate through educational challenges and complex school systems. Juntos deploys mentors to work with both parents and kids as they as they progress through middle school into high school and beyond.

Patricia was first encouraged by a friend to attend a Juntos camp at Cornell University. She had never set foot on a college campus before, but at the camp she got to experience college life firsthand. This ignited her ambition and she began studying harder and working with Juntos 4‑H mentors and her family to build a roadmap for her future.

“Patricia has become independent and focused; she has that inner drive,” believes Olivia Rios, Patricia’s Juntos 4‑H Program Leader. Ms. Rios has mentored Patricia in one-on-one coaching and led many of the family nights where Patricia’s mom and other families have learned how to engage their kids and help them plan for their futures.

One of the unique characteristics of the Juntos 4‑H program is how it brings families together. For Patricia, the impact on her relationship with her family has been life-changing.

“I feel like my mom has gotten closer to me. I don’t think she cared about grades before… I feel like Juntos brought her in and she became aware of what’s going on in my life.”

Providing parents with the tools they need to help support their children’s academic journey is empowering for them and for their children.

Within a year of joining Juntos 4‑H, Patricia was accepted into her top-choice high school, became her 8th grade valedictorian, and was transformed by her new-found confidence. “I feel like Juntos 4‑H brought light to the importance of academics and being involved in the community,” she explains.

Today, Patricia is a junior in high school and is thankful she had friends who initially encouraged her to try Juntos 4‑H, as she recognizes the incredible impact it has had on her and her family.  Now she wants to ensure that more youth can become part of the Juntos 4‑H family and is working hard to bring it to peers at her school, all while working towards her future college aspirations.