How Hillsborough’s Latino students find their way to college

Tampa – Bressida Flores wants to keep fighting for her dream.

She plans to apply to the University of South Florida next year to study criminology. As a high school senior at Strawberry Crest School in Dover, she knows the future is in her hands.

“I am excited to start a new journey and have the opportunity to pursue my higher education,” said Flores.

She found a way to achieve her goals through a program called “Pasos al futuro” (Steps to the Future), a Spanish-only college information program for eighth- to twelfth-grade students. The initiative, which includes workshops, is part of an educational effort by the Hillsborough County Public School District.

Last week, Flores, 17, attended a workshop at the University of South Florida with her father, Ricardo, to learn about the college admissions process and how to research scholarships and financial aid opportunities.

In the 17 years since the program began, it has created a supportive community that values ​​higher education and enables an easy transition to college. For many, it has helped them become the first in their families to benefit from a college education.

Florida has the third largest number of Latino students in the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In the Tampa Bay area, more than 80,000 students identify as Hispanic, like Flores.

Elvis Santiago, 21, a cybersecurity student born in Tampa, said his transition to college would have been more difficult without the program.

His parents, Mauricio and Neves, could not help him pay for college tuition. They came from Mexico more than two decades ago to work the fields of Plant City. They were always struggling to make ends meet.

But Santiago is eligible for financial aid from several sources, including the Immigrant College Assistance Program (CAMPA), a federally funded initiative that provides financial aid and services to students from immigrant backgrounds and seasonal farmers.

(From left) USF students Fabian Machin-Arredondo and Elvis Santiago take part in a panel discussion during a Passos al Futuro event at USF on Wednesday, November 16, 2022, in Tampa.  The presentation, which was held in Spanish, included information for Hispanic students between the eighth and twelfth grades and their parents on how to prepare for college.
(From left) USF students Fabian Machin-Arredondo and Elvis Santiago take part in a panel discussion during a Passos al Futuro event at USF on Wednesday, November 16, 2022, in Tampa. The presentation, which was held in Spanish, included information for Hispanic students between the eighth and twelfth grades and their parents on how to prepare for college. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

“Pasos El Futuro encouraged me and made me want to be the first in my family to go to college,” said Santiago.

Zoila Ramirez de Roman, from the Dominican Republic, attended the workshop with her daughter Sofia, 14, a ninth-grade student at Dr. Kiran C. Patel High School in Tampa.

Ramirez de Roman came to the United States with her family a year and a half ago. She and her husband were looking for better educational opportunities for Sophia and her eldest daughter, Isabella Carolina, 18.

The Hispanic program is unique, Ramirez de Roman said, and emphasizes student participation. She said the lessons they learned go beyond language.

“It was definitely an enriching experience,” said Ramirez de Roman.

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Sofia said she appreciated the program because it made her realize that students like herself have the opportunity to pursue a quality education.

“I liked it a lot because I usually can’t get a lot of information in Spanish on these topics,” she said.

Flores was born in North Carolina, where, in the summer of 2005, her parents were working picking strawberries, tomatoes, and blueberries.

When her family moved to Plant City, Flores was determined to continue being a good student. She learned the value of responsibility and perseverance from her parents, Ricardo and Yanhet, from Mexico. She said they helped her achieve her dreams of attending university next year. And they wanted to participate.

Passos al Futuro is especially valuable in homes like hers, Flores said, where no English is spoken.

“My parents want to educate me,” she said. “They didn’t have that option. Everything depended on my efforts.”

For more information, visit https://www.hillsboroughschools.org/Page/7165.

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