My mom (and KIPP) don’t just hope for me to go to college, they expect it

ByFernando Barrientos (guest essay)

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My family is from the Dominican Republic. I was raised by a single parent in a low-income household. My mother has been set on me going to college. She doesn’t hope for it—she expects it, especially since my older sister graduated from college and is now in grad school. I’m going to be the second person in my family to graduate from college.

And that’s something I’m proud of.

I’ve been with KIPP since fifth grade and my academic drive has only increased over the years.

I serve as a student mentor at Raw Art Works (RAW), a local nonprofit, where I lead art therapy sessions for middle-school boys who’ve been through a lot, kids who struggle with violence at home or have trouble fitting in at school. It’s been an eye-opening experience. RAW was the first time I’ve noticed the hardships many kids carry without the opportunity to talk to anyone about them.

My own KIPP experience has involved people who’ve helped me get to where I need to be, so my volunteering is my way of paying it forward.

Jorge Ochoa, my college counselor, sees himself in me. He’s arranged opportunities for me to fly to visit different college campuses like Tufts and Boston University. Most important, he talks to students about personal issues if he can tell they’re having a bad day.

We spend a lot of time with our college counselors and we get a lot of guidance in general. Each counselor gets about 20 students and we work on college application essays for two hours every day after school. Every Monday, each student has an advisory, where you meet for an hour with a teacher and a cohort of 10-12 kids you’re grouped with for all four years. It’s been one of my favorite experiences at KIPP. We’ve done pumpkin carvings together and advisories are good chances to be part of something smaller.

Mr. DoBell, my English teacher, makes it fun to read—and since I’m more inclined towards math and science, this was not easy for me. We read “Invisible Man” and a ton of short stories like “Clarence and the Dead.” But what I like about Mr. Dobell is that he’s very transparent. You know what kind of person he is and he lets student express what they’re thinking and feeling. For example, the day after the presidential election, kids walked around with a lot of frustration, and he could see that, so he scratched his lesson to give us space to talk about what happened.

As someone whose mom is an immigrant, it was important to have been given the freedom to speak our minds, and I’m glad Mr. Dobell recognized that we couldn’t just have another regular class that day.

I feel really prepared for college thanks to KIPP. I’m currently taking four AP classes in calculus, biology, Spanish, and literature and composition. Forty kids at KIPP are taking AP calculus out of 350 kids in the entire school.

After sophomore year, I won a full scholarship to the Brown Leadership Institute, a program the university has every summer for high school students who are interested in exploring an academic topic and connect that to social issues and positive change.

I also won a Posse Foundation scholarship to Denison University, a really, really diverse school where I want to major in engineering. Posse selects high school students and places them with other kids of similar backgrounds—minorities, low-income, immigrants or children of immigrants—in groups of 10 who will attend the same college.

Kids who at first glance may come from challenging environments, but like me, know how to get through them because we have people who don’t feel sorry for us. Instead, they expect great things from us.