September 18, 2014

Finding A Space To Call Your Own

by Rocco Hidalgo

Rocco Hidalgo is a College Advising Corps (CAC) Advisor. The CAC is an AmeriCorps program housed within the Swearer Center, which seeks to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college and underrepresented students who enter and complete higher education. 

As a College Advising Corps Adviser at Central High School my mission is to help my students realize their potential and accomplish their dreams of obtaining a college degree. As a low-income first-generation college student myself I understand what it’s like to be brought up from nothing and suffer a number of exasperating setbacks. 

A student walked in my office and asked, “Hello Mister. Can you read my college essay? My teacher said it’s good but I want to change it.” 

After reading the essay, I could not help but realize the similiarities between us. Coming to Rhode Island from New York at the age of six she expressed her appreciation for the basement in her newly acquired Rhode Island home.

In the media, New York City may seem like an electrifying experience - to ride through Manhattan seeing all of the lights, the monumental Empire State Building, and catching a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty from the bridge. New York City is one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world. Low-income families are forced to live in small apartments, or housing projects.

After moving to Rhode Island, her family worked hard to purchase a house, where the basement became her sanctuary. Back in New York she barely had room to move, the luxury of having her own private space was unfathomable. Her reaction to her new home’s basement resonated with me because I have a personal goal of owning a home with a chic laundry room in the basement. I realized we were both appreciative of an area of a home that is typically overlooked as storage, a space that for us represented so much more.

I remember questioning my ability in much the same way that the student did when she walked into my office. College was the last place I ever thought I would end up. It just seemed impossible. I doubted that I was I capable of obtaining a degree or even getting into a four-year institution. After making my final decision to enroll at the community college, a College Access mentor advised me that I should apply to some four-year schools. The mentor informed me my grades were pretty good and it wouldn’t hurt to submit the common application, especially since she was able to waive the application fees. I had no idea of how the whole college thing even worked or of what I was truly capable of.

The obstacles and uncertainty that plagued both my experience and that of my student represents the experiences of students in urban schools all over the country. But for the presence of an informed mentor or adviser students may not be exposed to what the world has to offer them. I had the good fortune to have a college access adviser who opened my eyes and doors. The hope is that once these students become professionals they will share their testimony and inspire the next young person who questions their abilities and talents.

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