Program guides high school community to college

The college admissions process is full of costly testing, confusing paperwork and long applications. For high school students without peers or family members who have gone through the process, it can act as a deterrent to attending college.

The Civic Engagement High School Partnership between the University of Miami and Miami Southridge High School is looking to end that.

“We’re hoping to create a college-going culture by having the high school students interact with college students who are close to their age,” said Sibongile Charles, High School Partnership Coordinator. “UM students are mentoring the high school students. They can answer their questions about college, because a lot of the them either don’t know if they’re going to college or they don’t really know how to prepare for the process.”

Since 2011, the program has been partnering UM students with teachers at Miami Southridge High School as a way to level the playing field for the many economically disadvantaged students attending the school. Now the program has also expanded to Booker T. Washington Senior High School.

Through presentations, lectures and peer mentoring, the UM students give the high school students an idea of what is needed to get into, and succeed at, a university or college.

Ashley Arostegui, the associate director of UM’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement, said Miami Southridge and Booker T. Washington are both high schools that are part of Miami-Date County’s Educational Transformation Office.

“They’re traditionally underserved and underperforming, and so there’s a need there,” she said.

As co-president of UM’s Society for Education Reform (SEFR), senior Mischael Cetoute said that the program immediately caught his interest when SEFR was emailed about participating.

“I realized there’s so much about the college process and navigating the education system that inherently disenfranchises people who don’t have that experience,” said Cetoute, who majors in political science and Africana studies. “There’s no way you can successfully navigate the college process as a first generation college student without outside help.”

At Miami Southridge High School, there are only two guidance counselors and two graduation coaches listed in the staff, with more than 2,000 students to help. For first-generation students, the extra help is crucial to getting through the college admissions process.

UM upper-level students with majors or minors in history, English, Africana and American studies can apply to take part in the program for this upcoming spring semester. Applications are due Oct. 16.

Participants are asked to give three guest lectures, mentor students and work with the teacher they are partnered with to enhance the curriculum. Students receive three credits in history or English for the spring 2015 semester, but participants feel that the real reward is the impact they can have on their community.

“Our overarching goal is that UM students are giving back to the community and giving their time to bettering the community,” Charles said. “We’re hoping that if they did come from another background, they’ll gain some perspective on what other students are experiencing and see what they’re going through.”

Both Cetoute and Arestogui stressed that, regardless of the career plans UM students have, education connects to all fields.

“We hope that they’ll think about education no matter what career path they choose to go in to afterward,” Arostegui said. “They’ll see that it’s an issue that is worth their attention.”

For more information, visit the Office of Civic & Community Engagement website at