October 5, 2011
Alexa Craft

Students Tell how Gateway to College Transformed their Lives

When six people shared their inspirational and compelling Gateway to College stories, there were more than a few tears welling in the eyes of members of the audience, including my own.

Three of the people are students in the program at Front Range Community College’s Westminster Campus. The other three are graduates of the program. They spoke to about a hundred people who came to the campus to celebrate the success of Front Range’s Gateway program, now beginning its fourth year. Thus far, 58 students have earned high school diplomas and plenty of college credits at the same time. About a hundred students are enrolled today.

Nationally, Gateway to College is a drop-out recovery model developed by Portland Community College in Oregon, which is the funder of the planning and startup grant for FRCC.

High school dropouts: A national epidemic

Prentice Davis, senior manager for Gateway to College Training and Partner Support, called the dropout challenge “a national epidemic. The reasons are many, and have little to do with academic aptitude, and more to do with what’s going on in their lives.”

Davis gets tremendous satisfaction with the results Gateway to College delivers.

“There is no greater payment to an educator than seeing a student who was lost transformed through this program,” he said.

Why is it important to give second chances?

According to the American Youth Policy Forum:

  • If dropouts would stay one more year in high school, the United States would save $41.8 billion in future health care costs.
  • If one-third of dropouts would earn their diplomas, the United States would save $10.8 billion in annual Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

Gateway to College transforms lives

Alejandro Barrientos is in his last semester as a student and already is thinking about a career in art or graphic design. “I like to draw,” he said. “I got inspired to see my potential. I’m two weeks away from publishing my Web site with all my works.” He plans to major in animation and graphic design in college.

Alexa Craft

Alexa Craft left high school after her junior year after she had fallen behind because of family issues. Her high school counselor sent her to Gateway to College. “I have a plan in my life now,” she said. “I plan to go to cosmetology school as a backup plan for whatever I do in my life. I was a loner before I came here. I’ve met a lot of amazing people.”

Isaac Ramon

Isaac Ramon’s proudest day was when he walked across the stage to accept his high school diploma on the same night his mother walked across the stage to receive her associate degree. Before that, however, he spent two years in jail “making positive changes to my life.” He came to Gateway with 5½ high school credits. He graduated in two years – an honor-roll student with 25 college credits, too. He wants a social work degree from Metropolitan State College of Denver. “Every single day on campus is a clear reminder I want to be a counselor. A counselor changed my life, and I want to be a counselor so I can be that person in someone else’s life.”

Gateway to College is a second chance

Jo Gallegos says Gateway to College “immensely changed my life.” She dropped out as a senior. Now, she has 11 college credits and is looking forward to “a new start in college. Gateway is definitely a program for students who need a second chance. I wanted to prove … that I could do it … that I’d never have a second chance.”

Ashley “AJ” Jones looks at education as a bright room, but in her life “somebody turned the light off.” Her grandmother entered a nursing home after a second stroke. Her best friend was murdered. She transferred school districts as a senior. She dropped out. A friend told her about Gateway to College. “Gateway to College turned that light back on. I could see where my life is. I see many options. I see my strengths as a student. I see so many paths I could take.”

Rex Trujillo was a junior with a GPA of 0.03. And that was with just three high school credits earned. She graduated from Gateway to College with a 2.76 GPA, plus 33 college credits. “It was very cool to walk across the stage with the rest of the college and shake hands with the president,” she said. “I can have goals, and I feel I can achieve them.” She is enrolled at FRCC now, taking 12 credits this semester. Her transfer targets are Metro State or the University of Colorado.

Gateway to College is one answer to dropout challenge

Front Range President Andrew Dorsey, who serves on the board of directors for the Gateway to College National Network, updated the attendees about the FRCC program.

“We have good retention rates and good graduation rates. It’s a good track record. Our program is gaining prominence nationally.”

He said a national research study is about to get under way to provide data-driven evidence of Gateway’s performance.

“Gateway to College is not the only answer to the dropout challenge,” he said, “but it is one of the critical programs in a good mix of solutions. Students come with all kinds of issues. They support each other in meeting their goals. That’s the essence of Gateway to College.

Dorsey also presented recognition plaques to the superintendents of districts 12, 1, and 50 for the districts’ partnerships with Front Range in Gateway to College.

The Gateway to College National Network is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Carnegie Corporation of New York; The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation; The Kresge Foundation; Open Society Foundations; and the Walmart Foundation.  Jobs for the Future, an action/research and policy organization that promotes innovation in education and workforce development, serves as the initiative’s coordinating intermediary.

About the author:

John Feeley is director of public relations at Front Range Community College. He’s a retired soccer referee and newspaper editor whose subscription ran out.

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