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Aspirando Alto: Aspiring High
September 20, 2005

"Aspirando Alto," a new conference from the Calvin College office of pre-college programs, is aimed at building college aspirations in Latino students.

The conference (the name is Spanish for "aspiring high") will be held at Calvin Thursday, October 13 through Saturday, October 15. It is being funded by a $10,000 grant from Bank One and a $500 grant from Mercantile Bank.

Aspirando Alto is in many ways a re-invention of the college’s popular STEP conference, says Rhae-Ann Booker, director of pre-college programs for Calvin.

"STEP has been successful in drawing seventh through 10th graders for a three-day simulated college experience during the summer," Booker says, "however, few Latino students knew of or participated in the conference."

"Aspirando Alto" will bring 75 Latino seventh through 10th-grades students from Central High and Burton Middle schools and Potter’s House Christian Middle and High schools to Calvin's campus for a weekend full of activitie.

The students, who must be nominated by their school counselors to participate in the conference, will represent different levels of academic performance.

"We are intentionally seeking students who are serious about their academics," Booker says, "as well as students who may be at a crossroad, but who - with an intervention like Aspirando Alto - may be pushed in a more positive direction academically."

The conference will commence with check-in at 5 p.m. Thursday, followed by dinner, ice-breakers and games. Students who choose to stay overnight will intentionally be paired with Calvin Latino students who will serve as dorm hosts and academic coaches. Calvin will provide transportation for students who are unable to stay overnight.

Friday morning will feature an address by keynote speaker Edith Michmerhuizen, who works with Merge Ministry, helping churches around Latin America. Michmerhuizen will speak about adapting to America as a Latino immigrant. Following a morning chapel, the students will attend a workshop titled "Preparing for College." Then students will attend a Calvin class along with Calvin students.

That afternoon, the students will attend "Expressions" workshops in art, journalism, film and computer technology. And Friday evening, parents are invited to join their children for a showing of a movie.

Saturday will feature student workshops on preparing for the ACT and SAT tests as well as two workshops for parents: "Preparing My Child for College" and "Preparing for College Costs." The student attendees will also make presentations based on their work in the "Expressions" workshops.

"Aspirando Alto" not only represents the first intentional partnership for Calvin's pre-college programs with the Latino community, it also represents the office's first partnership with schools.

Says Booker: "When our department developed back in January 1997, we began partnering with churches in the southeast quadrant of Grand Rapids in a primarily African-American community."

She is hopeful that the upcoming conference will enable Calvin to build the trusting relationships with the Latino community on which future programming can be built.

"We're also hoping that establishing these relationships through Aspirando Alto will lead to more involvement of Latino youth with other pre-college programs at Calvin," she says.

Booker has also invited representatives from other area colleges to participate in the program to see if they wish to adapt the model for their institutions.

Leticia Espinoza, a 2003 Calvin graduate and the coordinator of "Aspirando Alto" is excited about the new partnership.

"I think that the Latino population is very important and it has a growing voice," Espinoza says. "The fact that Calvin is noticing and trying to serve that part of the community is gratifying for me."

Because she immigrated from Mexico at the age of 23, Espinoza knows the struggle of adapting to a new culture.

"Some institutions would like to have programs that are one-size-fits-all," she says. "I think that the fact that we're taking the time to model a program that fits the Latino community strengthens the involvement of Calvin in the Latino community."

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson