Underserved Century High School students admitted to college at the end of a university field trip

Emanuel Diego
Century High School’s Emanuel Diego Narvaez expresses surprise after learning he’d been accepted to Western Oregon University at the end of a field trip there on Friday, Nov. 22. (Luke Hammill / The Oregonian)

The Oregonian
By Luke Hammill

The relief was visible on the Century High School students’ faces at Western Oregon University.

“I’ve been checking the mail every day. … It’s really surreal,” said Tasha Cockreham.

“I expected it, but I had my reasonable belief that I might not,” added Gabriel Jones.

And after Julio Viveros received the good news, he said, “It’s nice to know that I’m college bound – finally.”

Many of the Century students will be the first members of their families to attend college, and they found out at the conclusion of a field trip to Western Oregon University on Friday, Nov. 22. They’d applied to the school earlier this year as part of the Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, program, which aims to help traditionally underserved groups of students apply and enroll in college.

“A lot of them have a story,” said Heather Zehr, an AVID instructor at Century. “A lot of them come from difficult situations.”

Other schools also attended Friday’s open house event at Western Oregon, but Century’s group of 53 students was particularly high, said WOU Associate Provost David McDonald, who added that Hillsboro’s relatively high percentage of Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students matches well with the university’s mission to reach those demographics.

McDonald said WOU visited Century when the students applied and offered to give them a decision on the same day. But Hillsboro teachers and staff decided to try something new – giving the students their admissions decisions when they visited campus, after they’d taken tours, reviewed financial aid processes and talked to current WOU students. That way, Zehr and McDonald said, the admission to college becomes much more real.

“We’re committed to doing it because it works,” McDonald said. “It works for the kids. It really is a very empowering experience. Some of these kids will look around and say, ‘Wow, these are kids who are like me. And they’re all going to college, too.’”

Not all 53 students applied to WOU – some were just there for the tour and the information about the school. And McDonald said there were a few students in the group who were not admitted to WOU. They will be referred to a committee, and the students will have the chance to make a stronger case for admission and explain shortcomings in grades or test scores.

At the end of Friday’s event, the Century students walked outside Werner University Center and excitedly gathered around Zehr, who had a stack of admissions decisions in her hand.

“I’m so proud to be your teacher,” she told them before handing out the decisions.

The students cheered as Zehr called their names. Students like Emanuel Diego Narvaez were struck with wide-eyed disbelief. Jones was relieved – he said WOU was one of his top five choices. McDonald estimated that between 20 and 25 percent of the students that apply through the WOU outreach program attend the university.

“I think it’s really powerful that the 53 [students] have done this journey together, and I think it’s really amazing that they get to find out together,” Zehr said.

As part of the AVID program, the students take an extra class at Century that drills them on basics like note-taking and organization that are crucial skills to have in college and that often come more naturally to students with college-educated parents.

Cockreham, who said she was surprised she was accepted to WOU, was quick to credit Zehr and the other teachers who helped her through the application process.

“I couldn’t have made it to college without AVID,” she said.

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