Bright Futures grows reputation, students with third annual summer academy
Sheccid Villanueva first heard about Bright Futures from her cousin, who joined the Park City program during its inaugural year in 2016. After seeing how the program pushed her cousin to succeed, she knew that she would be the first to sign up when it was her turn.
“They opened a lot of doors for her, so I felt like I wanted to have that opportunity,” she said.
She recruited as many friends as possible and, last week, she and another 26 incoming sophomores at Park City High School gathered for the third annual Bright Futures Summer Academy.
Bright Futures is a program that provides resources and opportunities to first-generation college students to help them succeed in high school, college and beyond. It is sponsored by the Park City Education Foundation. Each year, the program kicks off with a week long summer camp during which the students learn about the importance of college readiness.
Rebeca Gonzalez, program manager for Bright Futures, always starts the summer academy with a parent night, when parents are able to meet with Gonzalez and other school leaders such as the principal of Park City High School, Roger Arbabi, and the superintendent, Jill Gildea.
She said support from the parents is critical to the success of the Bright Futures program.
“I start with the parents because they are our partners in this. I can’t do this without them,” she said. “It has been valuable for them to understand how rigorous and how time consuming it is to be a first-generation college student.”
The day after the parent night, Gonzalez welcomes the students to the academy with a lesson about the value of earning a college education. They do an activity where they are presented with the salary of someone with a high school education earning minimum wage and told to pay for housing, food and child care, among other everyday expenses. Then, they do it again with a high-paying job that requires a college degree.
For Kenneth Nava, seeing the difference between the life of a Walmart cashier and a lawyer was one of the most eye-opening experiences of the whole week.
“I learned that college is more important than I thought,” he said.
He also walked away with a catchy phrase in his head, since it was repeated throughout the event: “The more you learn, the more you earn.” Villanueva said those words clicked in more as the week went on.
Her favorite part of the summer academy was when a man working in health services with Intermountain Healthcare came to speak about his job and other jobs available in healthcare. After hearing him talk about his job, she said, she realized she wants to pursue a similar career.
Gonzalez said that one of the main goals of the event is to help the students think critically about their futures. That was done through activities like comparing salaries, but also talking about what skills and experiences the students could seek out in order to improve their resumes and increase the likelihood of them being accepted into college.
Perla Garcia said, initially, she was intimidated to hear all she needs to do to prepare for college. But once Gonzalez and other adult volunteers walked the students through the resources available to them as part of Bright Futures, she became empowered to set goals and work hard to achieve them.
She also realized that she had a support system of 75 students – between her class and the upperclassmen – that would be checking in on her and sharing their knowledge with her during monthly meetings and other activities.
“We are all one big family and we need to look out for each other,” said Brittney Mellin, another new student in Bright Futures.
The importance of family was highlighted on the final day, when Bright Futures did its first-ever closing reception. Community members, donors and all current Bright Futures students were invited to attend. When Gonzalez heard about the experiences the incoming juniors and seniors shared with the new class at the event, she said she was in tears to hear the stories of teens who have turned their lives around.
It reminds her that the work they have done so far is paying off.
“We believe that this is going to change lives,” she said. “And it is, it is changing lives for the better.”
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