College Achievement Program offers path to success

Ariel Cohen

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Luis Naranjo felt out of place when he first came to City College.

Then he discovered the College Achievement Program, where he is now an integral part of the mentor system, helping students overcome their daily challenges he once faced.

“A friend recruited me into the program four years ago,” said Naranjo, 21, who was born in Mexico and moved to the United States when he was three. Now he studies English, works 40 hours a week, and plans to transfer to UCSB.

“Universities and California State Universities had students mentors and we did not,” said English Professor Jody Millward, who co-founded the program with Ignacio Alarcon, assistant professor of mathematics, in 1999.

Millward explained that in a survey of teachers, most said students were not able to achieve in classes because of their complicated lives. Now she can address students’ complex issues at the program’s weekly Friday class.

“We want to help students define themselves as intellectuals,” said Millward.

Peer groups are set up during class time, splitting up the students depending on their challenges.

“The class focuses on showing students what their strengths and weaknesses are,” said Millward. Challenges include everything from school to family to work.

“The group provides a mentor who has faced the same challenges in the past,” said Millward. “We started with five mentors, now we have eight along with a senior mentor.”

“My mentor took me around campus, and helped me get a career assessment for free from the Transfer Achievement Program,” said Naranjo said. Now, “as a senior mentor, I guide the mentors as well.”

The mentors provide students with tutoring, guide them through dropping and adding classes, and continuously call during the week to keep in touch with them.

Grissel Estrada, a third-year student and mentor, said she joined the program her first year.

“I found out about the program my freshmen year here, while I was in my English 100 class,” she said, explaining that her teacher helped her join. Estrada said she did not know about many school resources until she became part of the program. She initially declined to become a mentor because of work, but recently changed her mind.

“Last semester I decided to take up the offer because I decided that I wanted to be an English teacher,” Estrada said. “I had no previous experience mentoring. It opened my eyes to how much I liked helping people.”

Naranjo also struggled with work issues, but said the program helped.

“The program showed me that I could do work study. It helped me figure out how to obtain a job and still have free time,” said Naranjo.

Estrada said she believes the program is helpful in several ways other than just financially. “Aside from the scholarship, you learn a lot about yourself,” she said. “I have so many capabilities now.”

She plans to transfer to either San Jose or Long Beach State University, and wants to teach at a junior high school. Estrada said she thinks more people don’t join because they look at it in a negative light.

“People know about the program, they just think it is not for them.”

Naranjo still expressed faith in the program that did so much for him.

“[It helps students] find guidance and take advantage of resources.”

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