First group of Bright Futures students becomes college graduates
8 Parkites now the first in their families to earn a degree
Cris Mora-Rubio can still remember the first time he heard about the Bright Futures Initiative at Ecker Hill Middle School nearly a decade ago. Later, as a sophomore and first-generation student hoping to find a path to college, Mora-Rubio joined the program’s inaugural cohort.
He spent that first year talking about big dreams of becoming the first person in his family to further his education, which Mora-Rubio achieved during his senior year. And earlier this month, everything came full circle for Mora-Rubio when he walked the stage as a graduate of Westminster College – something he says would have been arduous without the support provided by the Park City Education Foundation Bright Futures initiative.
Mora-Rubio is one of eight first-generation students, who were among the original cohorts of the program, who earned their diploma this spring — making them the first Bright Futures participants to become college graduates and the first in their families to earn a college degree.
The other students include Park City High School class of 2019 graduates Jenifer Celestino, Isaac Cortés, Heidy Onofre Hernandez and Yetzza Sanchez; class of 2020 graduates Lindsay Carreto, who graduated a year early from Utah State University, and Ramsey Rea; and class of 2021 graduate Ashley Nava.
Bright Futures was launched by the Park City Education Foundation in partnership with the Park City School District seven years ago as a way to address structural inequity challenges that Park City-area students incur when trying to attend and complete secondary education. The local program specifically addresses first-generation students, nearly all of whom are Latino and whose families face income barriers.
Mora-Rubio was nine when his family migrated to the United States from Mexico. The youngest of six, he always wanted to attend college.
“My parents always emphasized going to school. I always just knew I was going to go to college – but I didn’t know how, or anything about it,” Mora-Rubio said. He joined Bright Futures in 2016.
The program provides support to students when they enter the 10th grade until they graduate from college by offering a college-readiness curriculum, individualized coaching, peer support and financial guidance or assistance.
Mora-Rubio recalled spending the first year of the program talking about his goals and what he wanted to study. Over time, the sessions became more intense as conversations shifted to which university he wanted to attend, college essays and imminent application deadlines. There were also summer academies that helped build camaraderie among the cohort as they learned skills such as budgeting.
The new Westminster College graduate said he feels privileged to have worked with experienced Bright Futures staff such as Nikki Blumin, who worked at the university level and took time reading admissions essays, and Rebeca Gonzalez, who graduated from the high school in 2014 and was instrumental in the creation of Bright Futures because of her own experience as a first-generation student.
“I was such a busy kid in high school. I was involved in everything,” Mora-Rubio said. “I just really needed that help; someone to say, ‘Hey I love you, you’re doing great.’ But also remind you of what needs to be done.”
He continued, “I like academics. I like school. I knew I was going to go to college. I knew I was going to make it, but to have [Bright Futures] made it a lot more digestible. I don’t think I would have graduated in four years without them.”
The continuation of the program through college is what sets the program apart, according to the Park City Education Foundation. It has led to unprecedented success including a 90% college progression rate for the 52 Bright Futures students, who make up four classes, currently enrolled in college. The national graduation rate for first-generation students with income barriers is around 11%.
Bright Futures focuses on collegiate support because of existing programs in the School District like Latinos in Action and Dream Big, according to Jennifer Billow, the vice president of development for the Park City Education Foundation who has been involved with Bright Futures since its start.
She said there wasn’t always an emphasis at the college level. However, the need arose as the first cohort strived for their degrees during the early years of the pandemic, and an emergency fund was created to help cover unexpected costs from new tires to medical bills.
Mora-Rubio utilized the financial services when his car broke down and he was worried about whether he could afford food amid the repairs. Bright Futures was able to pay for his groceries. The program also helped Mora-Rubio put down a deposit on an apartment in Salt Lake City that was close to both work and class. Staff acted as mentors and provided support or guidance whenever needed.
Financial stewardship was a key component, too. Bright Futures discourages participants from taking out loans to attend college as attending university is a risk for first-generation students, according to Mora-Rubio. He said students learned less to focus on the “brand name” of a college and more about what they can learn while there. This lesson allowed Mora-Rubio to complete his bachelor’s degree in public health debt-free. He said he can now do more to help his parents and leave an impactful legacy.
Billow added there’s a large income gap between people who graduate with any type of postsecondary degree or certification and those who don’t. According to the Park City Education Foundation, 100% of Bright Futures students are accepted into two or more colleges. This provides them more flexibility in where they can attend.
“Education makes a lifelong difference,” she said.
For Mora-Rubio the biggest takeaway of Bright Futures is reflective of how it started. He pointed to how inspiring it was to have Gonzalez, someone who belongs to his community, as an example of success. She helped coordinate the Bright Futures program while she attended college and after earning her degree, Gonzalez went on to become a teacher at Ecker Hill.
“What it means to me is that we’re going to have that seat at the table that we’ve always wanted. That we’re going to have representation that will have authority. We will have a voice and the power to improve our own communities. It’s really important to see that as a Chicano, as a Mexican-American, as a Latino,” Mora-Rubio said.
He added he hopes Bright Futures will continue to serve underrepresented communities, something Billow affirmed. She said there’s profound support for the program, which takes substantial funds to operate, and it only continues to grow. There are 25 Bright Futures students in the incoming sophomore class, which is double the size since the program’s inception. Around 150 students in total will be enrolled in the program by May.
Bright Futures is one of eight core programs funded by the Park City Education Foundation. For more information, visit pcef4kids.org/programs/.
Feline frenzy: June deemed adopt a cat month
As any cat owner knows, there are many joys and rewards of feline companionship, and HSU emphasizes some of the advantages in a recent press release.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.