September 29, 2006 | Myrna Anderson

Calvin hosts Aspirando Alto conference for Latin high school students and their families, October 12-14.

Calvin College will hold Aspirando Alto, its second-annual conference for Latino high school students and their families from Thursday, Oct. 12 through Saturday, Oct. 14.

Some 60 West Michigan seventh to tenth grade students will attend Aspirando Alto, Spanish for “aspiring high,” an event funded by a $5,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase and aimed at improving college access for Latino students.

“This conference provides an opportunity for the college to walk alongside Latino parents and students as they explore college entrance processes and academic needs and interests,” says Rhae-Ann Booker, Calvin's director of pre-college programs.

Encouraging promising students

The students, who attend from Burton Middle School, Creston High School and Potters House Middle and High School, must be nominated by their school counselors to attend. They will represent a range of academic achievement: both high achievers and those who might be spurred on to higher achievement through participating in the conference.

“The goal of Aspirando Alto is to encourage Latino students to finish high school and move on to higher education, and I'm passionate about that,” says Vanessa Acosta, 22, a Calvin education major who is coordinating the conference.

The conference begins at 5 p.m. on October 12 when students move into the Calvin residence halls, eat dinner together and have devotions.

Following breakfast on Friday, the students will attend the keynote address by local pastor John Matthias on the conference theme, drawn from Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Next, students will attend chapel, followed by a workshop on preparing for college, then a Calvin class of their choosing.

After lunch, they will have an ACT/ SAT preparation workshop and a tour of the Calvin campus prior to their “Expressions" workshops in art, film, journalism and computer skills.

On Saturday, the students will be joined by their parents, who will attend a financial aid workshop and a college Q&A panel. The conference will close with a luncheon, where the students will make presentations about what they've learned over the weekend.

“They can be creative with it," Acosta says. “They can make a poster or perform a dance or do a skit or whatever.”

Deepening relationships

She hopes that Aspirando Alto will inspire Latino students to a wider vision of their many post-high school options.

“I think it's important to get Latino students into the private colleges. It's not just public colleges they can get into. They need to know they also get funding to attend private colleges.”

Acosta, herself of Cuban descent, was encouraged to attend Calvin through participating in the college's Entrada Scholars Program, a month-long summer college experience for minority high school students. She also attended Fridays at Calvin, the college's campus visit program.

“I loved Calvin after those two programs,” she says. “And my first year my tuition was totally paid for with scholarships and financial aid.”

Organizers of the first Aspirando Alto, held in October of last year, are eager to repeat the success of that conference.

“We achieved many of our established goals, such as beginning to deepen relationships with local schools and Latino communities,” says Booker. “Also, we exposed students and their families to Calvin College. And I feel we sparked interest among the youth for pursuing higher education–and among the families for considering Calvin College as an option.”

Booker says the family presence at Aspirando Alto is crucial to the conference.

“Parents are critical to the academic success of their children,” says Booker. “We must walk alongside them, not work around them.”

Rhae-Ann Booker, director of pre-college programs

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