Achieving their Dreams: Latino College Access Club Breaks Down Barriers for Students

Dr. Becerra (center) stands with club participants
at Marymount University, April 2023.

When APAH and Virginia Latino Higher Education Network (VALHEN) partnered in the fall of 2022 to launch the Latino College Access Club, there was one goal in mind:  provide Latino high school students with information, expert advice, and ongoing support to help facilitate their pursuit of higher education, trade school, or a goal beyond secondary education.

Navigating postsecondary schooling options and financing is complicated, especially for first-generation students, so each month during the school year, APAH youth and their families learn about a different step on the path to continuing education after high school. After discussing topics like essay writing, financial aid, and college applications, the club turned to college tours.

Henry Spears of APAH (left) administers the
program with Lyons Sanchezconcha of VAHLEN (right).

Recently, the club visited Marymount University and experienced a college tour together. They walked the campus seeing dorms, the colleges of nursing and science, and discussed a variety of study areas. Afterward, students and their parents met with Dr. Becerra, the university’s president, who shared her personal journey, the history of the university, and her vision for the future of the school. Students and parents described the visit as inspiring and appreciated the special day with the president.

Parents are encouraged to attend each meeting, and programming is offered in both English and Spanish. Parents who only speak Spanish appreciate being able to better understand “what it means to go to college and the holistic processes,” because they hear the information in their native language.

Lyons Sanchezconcha.

Breaking down barriers that students face in accessing higher education is difficult; but with caring and knowledgeable partners like Lyons Sanchezconcha of VALHEN, the partnership makes a real difference in the lives of APAH youth. In the summer of 2022, Lyons and Carmen Romero, APAH’s President and CEO, brainstormed ways  to provide more resources for youth as they graduate high school. The idea evolved and as a result, APAH and VAHLEN piloted the Latino College Access Club. Lyons is a dedicated volunteer and frequently travels from Richmond to Arlington to administer the program with Henry Spears, Associate Director of Resident Services at APAH.

Lyons shares, “This partnership is important because it empowers families and helps youth see that they are capable of accomplishing anything they set their mind to. We ensure students are making informed decisions about post-high school plans through expert advice. Navigating options can be overwhelming, especially if you’re still learning English or a first-generation student, but students know we are here to help.” This fall, a club participant will attend UVA on a full-ride scholarship with plans to study engineering, setting a new bar for their family, despite being ineligible for standard financial aid through FAFSA.

Many moments stand out from the club but Lyons identified one that exemplifies the partnership’s purpose of building hope for participants. Recently, a student shared with Lyons, “Quizás no tengo mucho pero lo que si tengo son ganas,” which translates to, “I may not have much, but what I do have is the drive.”

Lyons overviews the college
application process with students.

APAH hopes to expand the program in the coming years by increasing resident participation and establishing partnerships with additional universities, while continuing to support students who are currently involved as they navigate the transition into adulthood that comes with pursuing postsecondary goals.

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