Spring ISD EMERGE Fellows who participated in summer learning opportunities to support their college and career goals include Kevin Bonilla (Spring Early College Academy), from left, Diana Salmeron (Spring High School), Emily Castillo (Spring Early College Academy), Chrishawna Johnson (Spring High School), Brianna Johnson (Carl Wunsche Sr. High School), Olger Carcache (Spring High School), and Nathan Tutop (Spring High School).
HOUSTON – Aug. 30, 2019 – Chrishawna Johnson has spent the past five years studying French but this July she was able to practice her language skills in France, thanks to the district’s EMERGE program, which gave her and about 20 other Spring ISD students unique opportunities to learn and grow this summer.
“It was a lot of personal growth for me,” said Johnson, who took classes at the University of Rennes and lived with a host family. “I really appreciated that aspect of it.”
Johnson was participating in a summer learning opportunity arranged through the EMERGE Fellowship and Houston-based nonprofit DiscoverU, which works with young people from underserved communities to connect them with college and career preparatory programs.
The goal was two-fold, according to EMERGE Program Manager Cierra Duckworth. The process of applying to summer programs was a preview of what to expect this fall, when the students will be diving into their university and scholarship applications. In addition, the experience of trying something new, such as living abroad or taking university classes, is designed to help students overcome any fears they might have about college, wherever they decide to attend.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Duckworth said, adding that imposter syndrome can be a problem for students acclimating to college life, especially at elite institutions. The summer programs, she explained, can help students tackle those feelings. “It’s just a great opportunity. They come away from it with so much that now they can apply to the world that they live in.”
Not all the students left the country, but all agreed that getting out of their comfort zones was a big part of the summer experience. Spring Early College Academy senior Emily Castillo participated in two very different programs – one at Lamar University in Beaumont, the other a three-week backcountry wilderness expedition in Wyoming with the National Outdoor Leadership School. Both provided culture shock, and lessons to take back home.
“I guess my biggest challenge would be being away from my family, and the socializing part,” Castillo said. “I learned I really need to work on my confidence. I feel like it went up a little bit, my outgoingness, but I’m still working on it.”
Spring High School senior Diana Salmeron, who plans on being the first woman in her family to attend college, wanted something that would help her grow more independent. She ended up in two programs – one a 10-day trip into the Grand Canyon where half the participating students were blind or visually impaired, the other a U.S. Youth Ambassadors Program to Argentina and Chile, where Salmeron spent two-and-a-half weeks living with a Chilean host family.
“Definitely, I grew more independent. I can say that for sure,” Salmeron said. “I feel so much more confident in my skills and my abilities as an individual.”
Spring Early College Academy senior Kevin Bonilla – whose summer experience included science and engineering programs at Texas A&M and Washington University in St. Louis – agreed. “I think that EMERGE definitely, for me, gave more of a sense that this is actually doable,” Bonilla said. “It opened my mind to realize that there’s a lot more possible than what I used to think.”