Students Helping Students
In a typical year as a work study student for NC State’s Juntos Program, Ross Davis (biology ’24) would have commuted to his assigned North Carolina high school each week to tutor and mentor students. He would’ve also sat down with Latino families and guided them through the steps to apply for college and scholarships. Instead, all of that important work took place through a computer screen this past year.
Juntos (pronounced “Who-n-toes”) means “Together” in Spanish and works to unite community partners to provide Latino 8th-12th grade students and their parents with knowledge, skills, and resources to prevent youth from dropping out and to encourage families to work together to gain access to college. Research shows that Latino youth are at greatest risk for dropping out of school between the 9th and 10th grades. The Juntos Program reduces this risk by bringing together cohorts of 8th grade youth to support each other as they enter high school and prepare together for higher education.
Davis joined the Juntos program out of a desire to help the Latino community, especially in his hometown of Asheville, N.C.
“Two of the biggest obstacles I see when families are considering applying to college are the financials and general family concerns,” Davis said. “College can be a lot of money, and without the help of our team to find scholarships and such it would be impossible for some families. Also, many of the Latino families we work with are very closely knit, so kids applying for college may not want to go far from their family or feel the need to stay behind and help support their family instead of pursuing post-high school education. How we help in that matter is by finding colleges or other programs that may be closer to their hometowns.”
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the families Davis assisted this year. However, he said many of the students he worked with were more motivated than ever.
“Most of the students that actually attended tutoring or set up an individual appointment were eager to learn new methods for schooling and were accepting of new ideas or other perspectives to help their situation,” Davis said. “A lot of these students struggled with motivation throughout the pandemic because they did not have people pushing them to continue and learn in person. However, this environment got them looking farther forward towards college because they saw just how unpredictable life can be. We motivated students to keep going one assignment at a time, but also with big picture achievable goals to work towards.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic made his first year at NC State a bit more difficult, Davis said the experience helped him grow in many ways. In particular, it has made him more outspoken and comfortable in virtual meetings and classes. He also formed great relationships with his Juntos colleagues.
“Many people may not be aware of this program or people like [NC State Juntos staff members] Bianca Wall, Diana Urieta and Abimael Rivera, but they are changing lives along with the environment that represents NC State University. They accomplish this through stellar teamwork and not only a true ‘Think and Do’ attitude, but a true love and passion for helping the Latino community achieve their own academic success journey. .”
Jeifeth Santana (biology ’24) came to NC State through the Spring Connect program and joined Juntos as a work study assistant.
“Ever since I was a child when asked what college I would like to attend I’d say NC State,” Santana said. “State has always had an allure that ultimately drew me in from a young age, up until it was time to apply for college. State was my top choice and the college I wanted to call home. I am currently pursuing human biology with an intent to attend medical school and become a pediatrician. With the Juntos program I am able to help other Latino students and their families know that attending college is a possibility and shouldn’t be something they are uncertain about.”
Like Davis, Santana’s first year at NC State was very different from what she expected. However, her work through Juntos kept her motivated
“I truly enjoy giving back to the Latino community because I know first hand what it’s like to not know how to fill out FAFSA with your parents, or how to take out a student loan, or even how to apply for scholarships,” Santana said. “Being there for them and helping them is something that I enjoy doing so that they are aware that college is a possibility for them and that they shouldn’t give up on their dreams.”
As a member of the Latino community herself, Santana enjoys being able to help others with the college application and financial aid processes.
“Some of the biggest obstacles for Latino families when considering and applying to college is the lack of knowledge of the entire process,” she said. “I, for one, can speak from experience. When applying to college, I did not know about how to apply for scholarships, how to fill out my FAFSA, how to pay for college, and all of the technicalities in between. Juntos works with Latino families to inform them on all of this and helps make the process much easier. For example, back in February a series of virtual workshops were started where a different topic was covered for about five weeks straight. Each workshop had a guest speaker that was knowledgeable on the topic being discussed and the families were given the opportunity to ask questions. Some of the topics discussed in the workshops included financial aid, the college application process, understanding the terminology and much more. The workshops were very helpful and I was glad to have been able to be a part of it.”
“The pandemic has changed how the program is implemented and brought new challenges to tackle,” said Abimael Torres Rivera, Juntos program assistant. “One thing that has remained consistent is seeing how dedicated our work-study students are. I was a work-study student with Juntos from 2013-2017 as an undergrad. Everything was in person during my time, so seeing how everything changed to virtual this past year was eye-opening and a time for us to adapt. The work-study students were on it! Seeing how they strived to meet the academic needs of the students was inspiring. They were a creative, passionate, and dedicated team that believed in the Juntos mission, to provide access and new opportunities for the students we serve, whether in person or remotely”.
Learn more about Juntos and the many services it provides Latino families across North Carolina at https://juntos.dasa.ncsu.edu/.
This post was originally published in DASA.