• by Héctor Bojorquez • IDRA Newsletter • March 2010 •Hector Bojorquez

IDRA has been working with youth in San Antonio’s Edgewood neighborhood through TECNO 2.0, a project funded by the TG Public Benefit Program and JP Morgan Chase. Our sole purpose was to increase access to college information through mentoring sessions at IDRA’s community technology centers in the west side of San Antonio.

During the year-long initiative, IDRA had the opportunity to reassert one of our main tenets: All students are valuable, none is expendable. While few would argue against this point for elementary school children, many balk at the notion that all high school youth should be considered “college material.” Whether it is out of intentional disregard for the hopes and dreams of students or out of simply following the path of least resistance by focusing on perceived academic elites, the outcome is the same; we send few minority and poor students to college.

The TECNO Tekies

In the fall of 2004, IDRA opened five technology centers on the West side of San Antonio to increase Internet access in the area. Since then, IDRA has leveraged these centers to build capacity among parents, provide professional development for community-based organizations and educators, and increase awareness of education issues through use of IDRA’s School Holding Power Portal (www.idra.org/portal)

Much good has come out of the centers. Hundreds of students have had access to computers for educational use, adults have started businesses and found jobs, and hundreds of hours of professional development have occurred. Yet, one of the most valuable outcomes of the TECNO centers has been the formation of the Youth Tekies group at the Edgewood Family Network community center.

In the fall of 2006, the Edgewood Family Network – a Westside community-based organization that is host to one of IDRA’s TECNO centers – began an intergenerational tutoring service where their home-grown youth leadership group taught basic computer literacy skills to adults in the area. This group of freshmen from two high schools tutored dozens of adults during a two-month period and eventually became known as the EFN Tekies. These teenagers stayed with EFN and have performed hundreds of hours of community service in the form of tutoring adults, leading health information sessions, providing technology assistance, and even organizing summer camps for local elementary students.

It was this group of teenagers that IDRA approached to assist in recruiting students to come to the TECNO centers for college information in 2009. The premise was simple enough: bank on students to bring other students to IDRA sessions. But as we began to prepare the Tekies for this endeavor, something became abundantly clear. The Tekies themselves were highly adept at disseminating information. Since it is IDRA’s understanding that every student brings gifts and talents and that those strengths, those assets, should be the building blocks for every student’s success, this ability became the foundation of the work of our TECNO 2.0 initiative. Students themselves are skilled at relating to other students.

With the help of IDRA staff, Tekie students became fountains of information about looking for colleges, distinguishing between college options (two-year to four-year college routes), applying to college through applytexas.org, and navigating the financial aid process. The Tekies created fliers, managed their after-school schedules, and organized peer-mentoring sessions while spreading the word about the center at school.

Key Learnings

IDRA’s relationship with the Tekie group resulted in information dissemination about the center and increased awareness about college information at the local high schools. During a three-month period, the Tekies served more than 140 students, far surpassing the initiative’s expectations for a single center. Furthermore, their networking efforts paid off as IDRA staff connected directly with 450 other youth at the high schools. Almost every student had already heard from them about IDRA’s efforts to spread information about college when we later went into classrooms to give direct counseling about going to college.

Furthermore, as we informally surveyed students, something else became clear. An overwhelming majority of high school students already want to go to college and only need some clarity as to what the process is like. Of 600 seniors we surveyed, close to 95 percent said they want to go to college. When asked what they see as an obstacle, the two most frequent answers were: lack of funding and low grades.

During sessions with the students, all views were valued, all careers choices were taken seriously, and no voice was discouraged. It was this combination of IDRA’s approach in valuing the gifts and voices that youth bring to the table and the groundwork laid by the Tekies that set a tone of openness and trust. Students who considered themselves “slackers” or “below average students” would ask us how it was possible for them to go to college, in spite of their past performance in school. We would help them plan a community college route to four-year institutions. Not once was a student told, “Maybe you should consider a trade school.” Students who feared they could not afford college received information on how to apply for aid. The results in our evaluations of school and center sessions were that 98 percent of the students felt more likely to continue with their plans of going to college.

What does this tell us about creating college-going cultures in high minority, economically distressed school districts?

  • The desire to go to college is there. It is the job of schools and communities to find ways to direct and counsel students early on.
  • All students must be valued. Top 10 Percent students should not be the only students to receive information and counseling about college.
  • Every child should feel that college is a viable option and receive the emotional and academic support to make it a reality.

Those are the challenges that schools face, creating a college-going culture that is all inclusive regardless of perceptions about what “college bound” kids look like. As one of the Tekies put it: “All students deserve the chance to go to college. Not just the top 10 percent.”

Héctor Bojorquez is an IDRA education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association.  Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]