Beginning this month, Florida College Access Network will begin profiling the innovative efforts of our partners to make college readiness, access, and success a reality for all Floridians. This week we profile New Futuro, a Miami-based ally in Goal 2025, a statewide initiative to increase the percentage of Florida residents who hold a high-quality degree or certificate to 60% by the year 2025.
To make it, first-generation college students need inspiration as much as they need strong entrance exam scores. That’s why New Futuro, an organization devoted to Latino student college readiness, kicked off its $1,000 scholarship competition with a Facebook call for high school seniors to take photos of themselves performing as they would in the occupations they aspire to have one day. Accompanying each photo was a short passage explaining the students’ dream career, life challenges, and a button for voters to click. “What does your dream look like? Imagina tu futuro con un imagen,” the contest asked in Spanish.
A slick mix of social networking and old-fashioned testimonial, the contest page was a kaleidoscopic picture of young Latino strivers. There were aspiring high school chemists in lab-suits, would-be veterinarians clutching ailing dogs, and future reporters holding mics up to their friends and neighbors. The contestants did not shy away from revealing the more ragged edges of the challenges they faced. One young illustrator wrote of her dreams to attend art school and her pride in acing an AP class despite learning English only five years earlier. She posted her dispatch from the garage in which her family lived, the result of an ailing father no longer able to work.
“We have to inspire first,” says Viviana Costa, program director for New Futuro’s Miami office. “Our students need to know that this is something possible for them and their families, that they should shoot for the stars. Once that happens everything more easily falls into place.”
Headquartered in Chicago, New Futuro maintains active offices in Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Miami, where they fill a real need in South Florida. Of the 380,000 public school students in Miami-Dade, two-thirds are Latino and more than half speak Spanish with their families at home. To be effective, the region’s college-readiness programs must connect with students’ families who maintain active cultural ties to Latin America and the Caribbean.
“I myself am a first-generation college student so I understand the pressure and the need to make decisions that will be good for the entire family,” says Costa. “We provide families with bilingual tools so that they can be successful and achieve their dreams after high school, whether it is college, vocational school, or any other post-secondary path.”
To bridge this cultural gap, New Futuro has essentially created a bilingual, educational community. They show Latino families how to blaze a path to college through concrete steps tied to their children’s personal, financial and higher education goals. Relying on their intimate knowledge of services used by Latinos, New Futuro has built a strong base of Latino support in just under two years of operation. They run online scholarship contests, promote their college fairs on Spanish media outlets like Univision and partner with companies like H&R Block to offer free tax prep, ITIN number assignation and college financial prep in one fell swoop.
Unlike other programs designed to foster a college-going culture among first-generation college students, New Futuro takes the online world as seriously as the real one. They connect with students in high school and follow-up on Facebook. They guide parents by the hand, breaking down the basics of entrance exams, FAFSAs, and college essays, then repost the same content on their crisply designed web site which can be shifted from Spanish to English with a single click.
“We are high-touch and high-tech. By high touch, I mean we do events several times a year with our families where we present the Road to College workshop. It’s for our parents who feel more comfortable having that one-on-one time,” says Costa. “We also have an online platform that goes hand- in-hand with what we do at our events.”
Costa says she gets the most interaction with families through the Road to College Workshop they stage several times a year. From raising your GPA to developing a well-rounded application, the workshop boils down college prep essentials to ten actionable, deadline-oriented steps. Every family who attends is entered into a $1,000 scholarship raffle. At a workshop presented by Allstate last year, the prize went to a family, headed by a single mom working to put four sons through college. She drove her eldest son an hour each way to Miami-Dade College as they could not afford another car. While the mother was ecstatic about the scholarship funds, her sons also received valuable advice about getting placed in college courses from which they had been denied, an issue that had gone unanswered at a school with over 160,000 students.
“It was such a wonderful way to support a family like this. And the mother and sons got to know that there is a support system out there for them like this,” Costa adds.
Mapping these pathways to success while being sensitive to Latino family values is what New Futuro does best.
“We know it’s a family affair when it comes to making these life-changing decisions,” says Costa. “Our message is you can make college possible. This can be one of your goals. It’s crossing a barrier. A lot of times they don’t believe this is something they can do. And they actually can.”