Part 1: Introduction
by Ken Gates
In this occasional series, we’ll follow the adventures of two REACH students as they work their way through the process of getting from high school to college, from researching different campuses to juggling application deadlines to investigating financial aid choices, and finally to arriving on campus just about a year from now. But first, let’s meet Magali and Juan.
When entering high school, Magali Alonso was excited at the prospect of meeting new people, and determined to get everything she could out of her education. Three years later, Magali has a lot of challenges and successes to reflect on as she begins her senior year and the daunting task of college applications. While many young people are planning careers based on what they’ve been told to want, or on what they’ve seen on TV, Magali’s interest in medicine comes from first-hand experience.
One of Magali’s biggest influences has been her brother. Julio was born with Cerebral Palsy. He is unable to walk, and struggles with basic language skills. One of her main responsibilities at home is to care for her brother, and according to Magali, they spend so much time together that, “when no one else understands what he’s saying, I get it right away. It’s like we have our own language.” When asked how her time with her brother has affected her, Magali explains, “My brother has helped me appreciate so many things people take for granted. He pushes me to try harder than I would, because I know I am lucky to have the opportunity.”
This is a lot to ask of a young person, and is more impressive in light of Magali’s own medical issues. During her sophomore year, because of severe migraines and abdominal pain, Magali spent a lot of time in hospitals getting tests. She ended up missing a lot of school, and her GPA plummeted.
Over time, Magali got back into the classroom and began pushing herself again. Barely back, and racing to catch up with her peers academically, she decided to take on the extra challenge of applying to the REACH program. Looking back on why she applied, Magali says, “When I’m not at school, I’m doing homework or helping out around the house. I joined REACH to go out and explore, to do something for myself.” Since then, Magali has participated in everything REACH has to offer. She learned how to set up a bank account, cook healthy food, and even completed a difficult five day backpack in Big Sur.
By the end of her junior year, Magali had gotten her GPA back on track, completed two advanced placement classes, and even started competing in freestyle swimming competitions at school. And now it is time to apply for college.
She understands that the application process is competitive, especially in any type of medical track. Magali is signed up for REACH Post Secondary events to better understand admission requirements, application deadlines and how to write a personal statement. While she has visited nine different schools through REACH college tours, the important choices are all hers to make, such as where to apply. “I’m still not sure, probably a UC (University of California) I think. I know I have to make these decisions soon.”
Magali is an incredibly resilient young woman. When asked about the challenges she has faced, her matter-of-fact response is, “In life there are many challenges to overcome. Each one has made me stronger.” This philosophy will serve her well in the months to come as Magali uses the experiences that made her stronger to make decisions that will impact the next four years of her life and beyond.
Every morning and afternoon you can find Juan Munoz skateboarding to and from school. He has the laid back nature of a stereotypical Southern Californian. As you get to know him you recognize that underneath the casual and relaxed demeanor is an ambitious, deliberate, and hard working young man.
Going into his senior year, Juan reflects on the past: “When I first came in I was influenced by the media and didn’t really have a good idea of what high school was really like. I was a bit intimidated academically. I would sit in the back of the class, just do my work and not try to stand out.” After adjusting to high school Juan pushed himself to take on all sorts of challenges. He joined AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), excelled in his classes and even took extra classes over the summer. “I was put in remedial English early on and that was hard for me; I knew I could do better. So I worked really hard and it took a few years, but now I am in Advanced Placement English, the hardest English class in school. It’s something I’m very proud of because it’s proof that I can overcome anything.”
After joining REACH in his sophomore year, Juan found that his resilient attitude fit well with the goals of the program. The greatest lesson REACH has reinforced for Juan so far is, “You need to learn about yourself. Don’t limit yourself, because that is something you’ll regret.”
Juan and his brother Jesus are the first of their family on track to attend and graduate college. Looking toward college and his next steps in leaving home, Juan reflects on his family and especially how his mother, “has been an inspiration and pushed me to do my best. When my brother and I are off at school I want her to be ok. We encourage her to take English classes. She has looked out for us and now we are trying to look out for her.” Even after a long day of school and homework, Juan and his brother still find time to help around the house.“ My brother and I just do what needs to be done. My parents work very hard all day so we help out where we can, whether it’s cooking, cleaning or whatever.”
When it comes to what schools Juan wants to apply to, he has a few in mind, but he’s clear that his list isn’t complete. He’s been to California State East Bay with REACH and AVID, and it’s one of his favorites. Colorado Mesa University and Santa Clara University are also high on his list.
When asked about his future, Juan got very serious, saying, “I know I can go somewhere and be successful. I don’t need to settle. I can find the career that I love.” He admits that his interests have changed a few times over the years. Right now he’s looking into majoring in Criminal Justice Administration and can tell you what kind of career that would set him up for.
In a few months, Whole Child Action will check in with Magali and Juan again to see how their college application process is going.
Ken Gates is a Program Manager with the Orfalea Foundation REACH program.