HOUSTON – May 1, 2019 – Westfield High School sophomore Kayden Bowie has faced challenges in his life, but his grandmother has always encouraged him to rise above them and believe in himself and his potential.
That’s why Bowie, one of 35 sophomores recently inducted as new Spring ISD EMERGE Fellows, is excited about committing himself to the EMERGE program, which helps prepare high-potential students from underserved communities to attend and graduate from selective colleges and universities across the nation.
“I decided that I wanted to make sure I did whatever I had to do to get wherever I wanted to be,” Bowie said during a break in the recent EMERGE new student orientation. “And so, basically, I knew this program was probably the best thing for me. I’ve always wanted to go to a selective college, but I was never sure if I would actually do it. And now I think that the program will definitely help me get there.”
Spring ISD inducted its first cohort of EMERGE Fellows in the spring of 2018. One year later, the Spring ISD EMERGE Fellowship is doubling in size as the 35 new Spring ISD students join others from across the Houston region. There are now more than 1,000 EMERGE Fellows – the group’s term for its high school participants – and nearly as many EMERGE Scholars, former fellows now enrolled in college.
EMERGE offers its high-achieving students not just a challenge to dream on a bigger scale, but a structured support system to help them attain those dreams – including regular meetings throughout junior and senior year, free SAT prep classes, application coaching, college tours, and a series of financial aid workshops.
The process of selecting the next cohort of EMERGE students was competitive from the start, according to EMERGE Program Coordinator Cierra Duckworth, and there was strong competition for each of the 35 spots available to rising juniors. Students had to submit an application, including an essay, before being invited to participate in an interview process that would give them a small taste of what applying to college would ultimately be like. According to Duckworth, the selective nature of the program allows students to hit the ground running.
“We know you all bring a lot to the table,” Duckworth told the sophomores during a breakout session at the orientation. “We’ve seen your potential.”
Dekaney sophomore Lizzet Cardenas attended the orientation along with classmate Galilea Luna. Both have high hopes for the future, and both said they were excited to see how EMERGE would help them realize those hopes.
“I’ll be the first person in my family to go to college,” Cardenas said. “I know I want to be in the medicine field, but I’m not sure where I want to go to school, so I’m really excited about the college trips. I think that’s a really great help to have and a very good opportunity.”
Both Cardenas and Luna agreed that having access to SAT preparation and financial aid information would give them a boost when it came to getting into – and affording – a good school. For Luna, who has been watching her older sister go through the college application process and has had a chance to see how stressful and overwhelming it can be, the EMERGE orientation left her feeling excited, but also more confident that she’ll be able to handle the pressure when her turn comes.
“I think this is going to really help me a lot,” Luna said afterwards.
While Duckworth briefed the students on what was in store for them, EMERGE Managing Director of Program Whitney Gouche spoke with their parents and guardians, explaining next steps. The program would require an ongoing time commitment, she told them, and would force everyone – both parents and students alike – to push beyond their comfort zones. But the results, she emphasized, can be transformative.
“These schools have systems in place to support students and student success,” Gouche said. “That’s why we focus on selective colleges. We’re not just a college access program, we’re a college success program.”
Not only can students find unexpected levels of financial aid at selective schools – including some that will match 100 percent of a family’s demonstrated need – they can also find greater levels of support, once they’re on campus, to help them succeed.
“I was the first person in my immediate family to go to college,” Gouche told students. “And because of that, my younger sister went to college, my kids are going to go to college, my kids’ kids – everybody’s going to college! But I had to be the one, right? I had to start. So, you’re not just going to change your lives, you’re going to change your siblings’ lives, you’re going to transform your families. This is going to be a generational impact.”