There are a number of goals outlined for Park City Education Foundation’s Bright Futures Summer Academy students. The most important one is for the first-generation teenagers to understand this fundamental sentiment:
“We are here for you,” said Jennifer O’Brien, Bright Futures (BF) program manager. “And not only are we here for our students now, we are here for them for the next seven years.
The BF program empowers first-generation, low-income Park City School District students to prepare for, succeed in, and graduate college. The Bright Futures team provides guidance, mentorship, and support from 10th grade all the way through college graduation - which ends up being about 7 years.
And Summer Academy, the kickoff event for the entire Bright Futures program, is the introduction to the idea that graduating from college is actually possible! The three-day event is designed to deepen what PCEF calls “college knowledge” - and to rally the cohort to support each other for hard work ahead.
Cristopher Mora Rubio, a student in the first-ever Bright Futures cohort, started his third year this fall at Westminster College. The 2019 Park City High School graduate spoke to students and their parents at the 2021 Summer Academy. He wanted both groups to gain a sense of reassurance and comfort around the process.
“I wanted the parents to know Bright Futures can be an additional set of eyes,” Cris said. “So many of the parents have to work so much that there’s not as much time to be as involved as they’d like to be. My mom was sure that I was on track in high school - because she knew she would hear from someone at Bright Futures if I wasn’t!”
Summer Academy is traditionally held for 10th-graders, which is when the program begins. Capturing the students’ commitment at this point is critical. The activities, games, and presentations are designed to help participants feel confident that it is possible to get to - and through - college. Without support, the idea of post-secondary education can be overwhelming, and the risk of students giving up just as college preparation years began was too great.
This year, 11th graders joined Summer Academy too, to make up for the scaled-down virtual Summer Academy held for safety reasons last summer. The students did group-building activities and heard from older Bright Futures students, who returned to give presentations and to speak on panels.
“The most impactful thing for me in Summer Academy,” Cris Mora Rubio said, “was to have all my peers there, bonding… It was a feeling of ‘we are in this together, we can do this, and we are checking up on each other.’”
That peer group bonding is one of the most potent ingredients of the Bright Futures program. Another is the introduction to college knowledge, which encompasses communication, costs, or additional curriculum like Dream Big or Latinos in Action. Mastering soft skills and crafting emails, financial resources and scholarship qualifications, and knowing which extra-curricular activities will place students in the best position for college acceptance and preparation are all examples of college knowledge. The students are also armed with some pretty powerful numbers.
“Statistics about percentages that impact first-generation students were shown [in Summer Academy],” said Edwin Ramos, PCHS/BF Class of 2022. “These are real numbers about how much more you can earn when you have a degree - versus NOT having one. This difference, I thought, was amazing.”
Thanks to PCEF donors, Bright Futures is able to hold Summer Academy, to provide program support, mentorship, and tuition/emergency assistance, which helps bridge the gap between actual college expenses and what is covered by scholarships and financial aid.
Nationally, just 11% of low-income, first-generation college students graduate college. With programs like Bright Futures, we see an 80% graduation rate.
According to Cris Mora Rubio, that’s just the beginning: “My best friend and I have gone through Bright Futures together, and he’s here at Westminster with me, too. It’s super helpful to have him by my side. Next up, the sky's the limit."