Over 1,000 students and parents attended SAISD's first "Students on the Rise" event. Photo by Bekah McNeel

More than 1,000 students and parents flooded the Fox Tech High School cafeteria on Tuesday for the San Antonio Independent School District‘s first “Students on the Rise” event where 30 top tier colleges and universities showcased their financial assistance programs.

SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez sees the remarkable turnout – organizers were expecting half as many people – as a confirmation that the district is moving in a clear, upward direction.

“It confirms that our goals are the right goals,” said Martinez.

Superintendent Pedro Martinez holds up a sign which he wrote his dreams for students. Photo by Scott Ball.
Superintendent Pedro Martinez holds up a sign which he wrote his dreams for students. Photo by Scott Ball.

Event organizer Seth Rau, legislative coordinator for SAISD, was pleased with the turnout, and hoped that it would translate into sustained motivation for those in attendance.

“Hopefully the momentum from the event will get students excited for the SATs next week,” Rau said.

Only the top 15% of district sophomores and juniors, or those with a PSAT score over 1,000 were invited to attend. Even among these best and brightest, many students and parents didn’t know that colleges like Dartmouth College and Vanderbilt University could be options for them.

Martinez admitted to the students that he wished he had known what kind of options were available to him when he was a low-income high school student in Chicago.

“What I want for you is to know this information,” Martinez said.

The event provided students and parents with the opportunity to attend three breakout sessions and see a total of six schools. During the breakout sessions, local alumni gave presentations on their alma maters. They spoke about their experiences with campus life, academic rigor, and life in far away cities. They told attendees what it’s like to live in a city with “real winter.” All of these unfamiliarities can be intimidating to students who have never left South Texas, but the alumni painted a picture of the adventures that await them.

Students see photos of the Georgetown University campus at a breakout session at "Students on the Rise." photo by Bekah McNeel
Students see photos of the Georgetown University campus at a breakout session at “Students on the Rise.” photo by Bekah McNeel

Brackenridge High School sophomore Vincent Gonzalez and his mother filed into the room with other students who were interested in Georgetown University and the University of Virginia.

Gonzalez said that he wanted to learn more about Georgetown and the University of Notre Dame. When I asked why Georgetown, he shrugged and smiled shyly. 

“I like the name,” he said.

Though this doesn’t seem like much to go on, name recognition is actually a major first step. The juniors represent the district’s first class from the GEAR UP program, but they have been exposed to a variety of colleges and universities since they entered the program as seventh graders. At “Students on the Rise,” they were exposed to even more opportunities and information. 

Each of the juniors in the program will apply to nine schools based on the best fit for their GPA, test scores, and interests, said Roxanne Rosales, project director for GEAR UP in SAISD. They learn what questions to ask during the application process, and once they arrive on campus.

“They can do it. They need to get that confidence,” Rosales said.

Star Romero (r) and her mother look forward to learning about Yale University at "Students on the Rise." Photo by Bekah McNeel
Star Romero (r) and her mother look forward to learning about Yale University at “Students on the Rise.” Photo by Bekah McNeel

Rosales hopes that students will identify aspirational colleges at events and programs like “Students on the Rise,” and realize the work they need to do to be accepted. 

Lanier High School sophomore Star Romero is already well aware of the work ahead. She wants to be a doctor. She attended the event to learn more about Yale University because she’s heard good things about their premedical studies and the Yale School of Medicine. For her, hearing from local alumni of her dream school is encouraging.

“It makes me feel good. If they can do it, I can do it,” she said.

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Top Image: Over 1,000 students and parents attended SAISD’s first “Students on the Rise” event. Photo by Bekah McNeel

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.