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Primed for success

For 28 Latino students entering Rogue Community College this fall, hands-on experience from a week in many classrooms has helped put them on track with future majors and careers.

“At first I was nervous — and I usually don’t get nervous,” said Karina Sanchez of Central Point, speaking of HOLA (Helping Oregon Latinos Advance), “but now I’m pretty set on being a teacher. After my two years here at RCC, I plan to get my elementary education degree at Southern Oregon University and use my bilingual skills to help young people learn English.”

Sanchez and others took two for-credit courses, “College Success and Survival” and “Decision Making,” teaching them how to make informed choices so they sign up for the right courses and majors that meet their goals, income needs and that match up with their character, as determined by a personality test, said Nicole Sakraida, adviser for RCC’s Discovery Programs.

“In HOLA, every September, entering freshmen get to research classes, certificate programs and scholarship plans and figure out the kind of jobs and income they want, so they do the right courses,” Sakraida said, “without wasting time and money.”

Students get time in classes on auto repair, dental hygiene, social science, massage, early childhood development and other areas, including a science class where the teacher demonstrated how sound waves from various songs can alter the shape of a flame.

“They are immersed in various departments on the three campuses,” says Javier De La Mora, RCC admissions recruiter, who visits high schools in Jackson and Josephine counties to sign up seniors for the program.

Latinos face a high dropout rate in high school and college, he adds, because of “financial and language barriers,” as well as the need for a network of friends and mentors in the higher education setting, which HOLA helps provide for the school year, which this year starts Sept. 29.

“It’s about getting them an education and the opportunities that come with that,” he says. “They’re all high school graduates, and their parents are extremely proud of them graduating and coming here. They have different backgrounds but the same goal, to be successful and reach out for their dreams.”

Jocelyne Mendoza of Grants Pass has her sights fixed on being a surgeon and plans to enter RCC’s nursing program, then get a bachelor’s degree at SOU.

“HOLA is interesting and adventurous, way more so than high school,” says Mendoza. “Everyone is striving and going for something. People want to be here and are paying to be here.”

Laura Chavez and her friend Carolina Orellana, both of Grants Pass, are doing ground work for careers in nursing and dental hygiene, respectively, with Orellana looking at an eventual bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.

Emilio Gonzales of Medford says he didn’t know what he wanted, but HOLA has pointed him to the emergency medical field, which is a plus if he becomes a firefighter, caregiver or enters any of several other fields.

Gonzales notes he is familiar with the struggles of young Latinos, but, “If you have a dream or goal, go for it. Once you get your foot in the door, then it gets easier. There will always be struggles in life, but you must overcome your difficulties and be positive, not a victim. I’m creating my future now, and no one can hold me back.”

The program is free, paid for by RCC and a grant from Bank of the Cascades. Two scholarships are awarded to HOLA students, paid by the RCC Foundation.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Carolina Orellana, 17, left, and Laura Chavez, 18, both from Grants Pass, take a break from their studies during a weeklong college preparation program called HOLA. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennelll