Park City students take futures into their own hands | ParkRecord.com

Park City students take futures into their own hands

Students and mentors in the Park City School Districts Bright Futures program gather at the Park City Library for the programs summer academy, which taught them about the importance of colleges, and the challenges standing between them and a degree. The program aims to give the students a better chance to graduate college.

Adair Castro has always loved cars. An incoming 10th-grader at Park City High School, he dreams of becoming a mechanical engineer. He wants to learn how to take engines apart and put them back together.

He smiles as he describes what fulfilling that dream would mean to him, excitement jumping from his words.

"I want to be able to help my parents and get a better future," he said.

But to see the life he envisions become a reality, Castro, like most underserved students across the country, faces staggering odds. The statistics portray a bleak picture: According to the Park City School District, only about 25 percent of first-generation collegians earn a four-year degree.

The district is trying to improve those odds, though. This summer, it started the Bright Futures program, which hopes to give underserved students the resources they need to thrive in high school and college. Based on a program called Bright Prospect in California, Bright Futures provides students with peer support and mentorship opportunities all aimed at one goal: Ensuring every student in Park City has a fair chance walk the stage on college graduation day.

Bright Futures, which is funded by the Park City Education Association and Park City Community Foundation and is entering its inaugural year, held a summer academy last week to introduce the nearly 20 participating students to the program. Over four days, the students were given a preview of the kind of sacrifices it will take to graduate college and were shown how Bright Futures can make it easier.

They learned about topics such as what goes into a college application, the importance of earning financial aid and how drastically a college degree can influence their earning potential.

Eduardo Sanchez, who is also going into 10th grade at PCHS, echoed Castro's reasons for joining the program and said the summer academy was inspiring. He wants to become an architect, and he understands the obstacles blocking his path. With Bright Futures' help, he believes he can overcome them.

"I just wanted a better future for myself and my friends," he said. "I want to have a positive life. I want to provide for the people who count on me."

Rebeca Gonzalez, the program's coordinator, knows all too well the challenges Park City's underserved students, many of them Hispanic, face. Growing up in a wealthy ski town does not shield them from the demographic realities that plague the nation.

She, too, was a Hispanic student in Park City and faced down the overwhelming odds against her. But she did not let a statistic define her. She became one of the first members of her family to go to college, blazing a trail for younger family members.

Each student in Bright Futures, she believes, can make a similar impact on the area's Hispanic community. Seeing them take control of their futures and become role models for others "fills my heart with joy," she said.

"They're going to make such a difference in this world," she said. "I see this generation, this cohort of students, as pioneers. They're being the leaders of this new program. It's so rewarding for me to see how they are beating the odds that are against them."

Jocelyn Reyes is another student participating in Bright Futures. She joined the program because she wants to become a voice for the Hispanic people in America who don't have one. Bright Futures will help her on her way, she said. It will be helpful to have a network of peers to rely on, people who know exactly what she's going through.

Only they, she said, can truly understand.

Her dream? Becoming an immigration lawyer.

"Most of us here are Hispanic, and most people don't know what it's like to be in our shoes," she said. "People don't know what it's like to be us from the time we wake up from the time we go to bed."

Enrollment in the program for the 2016-2017 school year is still open to incoming sophomores. Those interested can contact Gonzalez at rgonzalez@pcschools.us.