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Multilingual Workshops College Reaches Out Dowling Demystifies Application For Immigrant Families


2 January 2005
Copyright © 2005 Newsday. All rights reserved.

Marilyn Flores knows what it's like to be the first in the family to go to college. She is acquainted with the anxiety that can develop when faced with a potentially confusing thicket of requirements and documents that make up the college application process.

"It was very difficult," said Flores, an admissions counselor at Dowling College in Oakdale. Flores, who graduated from City University of New York's Baruch College in 1993, said her mother, a native of Puerto Rico, was unfamiliar with the process. "I did the application on my own. I did financial aid on my own. It was not easy ...," she said. "All I did was ask my mom for her taxes, and I did the rest."

Evette Beckett-Tuggle, Dowling's assistant vice president for enrollment services, tells a similar story. So both women know from experience the trepidation of some families for whom application for college may not be familiar.

To ease the process, Dowling is reaching out to the community to explain how to apply for college.

Dowling's college-preparation workshops are geared to everyone, Beckett-Tuggle said. "It doesn't matter what your ethnic background is. This is for all students, for all parents."

But she said she learned in discussions with some high school guidance counselors there is "a need for someone to talk to their students of color in a way they can relate to." So that has meant tailoring some workshops to Hispanics and, at Westbury High School, not only to Hispanics but to Haitian students and parents. A Dowling alumnus originally from Haiti was called to assist.

Donna Dannenfelser, director of guidance for the Westbury school district, said when Dowling officials contacted her, she told them the district has a high English as a Second Language population with Spanish- and Creole-speaking parents. "They told me they could provide a translator" for the information sessions, she said. "When you have somebody that provides a workshop in the native language of the parent, the parent feels much calmer, more connected. I think also more welcomed."

Freeport school district's chairwoman of guidance, Lourdes Cuesta, said Dowling officials did two presentations at the high school - one in English, the other in Spanish. About 43 percent of the school's 2,000 students are Hispanic, she said. "It was very beneficial. Parents have been very responsive and very appreciative . . . I was pleased with the job they did."

Dowling counselors and recruiters have long visited high schools to talk about the college and meet students. But this year, they've added the college-preparation workshops. It's outreach "in a new way for us," Beckett-Tuggle said. As a result, she acknowledged, "maybe we might drum up some interest" in Dowling. "But really, it's providing a service and filling a need."

Verification in a survey

Dowling's sense that Hispanic parents need information on the process and how to pay for college is borne out by a national survey. Harry Pachon, president of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California, said a survey released earlier this year of 2,400 Hispanics parents of college-age children and young adults concluded there was a need for the service. "We found it incredible that 50 percent of them did not know about financial aid," he said. "Many want their kids to go to college. They just don't have the information."

Flores said a goal of her Spanish sessions is to ease parents' anxiety. "I want everyone to feel very welcome, not intimidated. I tell them I'm available to answer questions" before launching into a fact-filled presentation of the application process.

Dowling also is reaching out to the Hispanic community through a new Spanish-language Web site, www.dowling . edu/admissions. "It's geared to be a welcoming page," said Art Flanagan, executive director of public relations, "as well as a point of reference for them to get more information."

A program in Spanish

On a recent evening, about 20 people, parents and their students in Southampton High School's ESL program, attended Flores' presentation in Spanish.

The school's ESL services director and guidance counselor, Joaquin Mendez, who at times aided Flores by reiterating her presentation in English for other parents at the session who did not speak Spanish, said it was helpful for immigrant parents to "be able to interact with people at the college level."

Parent Petra Bonilla said she felt better after Flores' talk about scholarship and financial aid, important considerations for the Mexican immigrant who works as a cleaner. Bonilla, who spoke English well but at times turned to Flores for clarification, said it is important her children, in ninth and sixth grades, go to college. It would mean "more opportunity, a better life. ... I don't want them cleaning like me. They need ... health insurance, vacation. Not like me. I never have that."

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