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Partnership encourages high school students to consider college

A picture is worth a thousand words. And Nevada State College is using pictures and words to help Basic High School fan the flames of going to college.

The college recently kicked off its partnership with Basic, with help from a grant derived from federal support of higher education, according to Andy Kuniyuki, Ph.D., Nevada State College’s dean of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The money’s purpose is to increase college-going behavior, he said. The grant extends through August, but the college plans to grow communitywide efforts with other funding.

One of the first orders of business: a poster contest, in which 30 Basic High School students recently depicted their renditions of college culture. On April 24, Chanel Chan, Caitlin DeWir, Diana Lopez, Cynthia Martinez, Marco Martinez and Jessica Reill received recognition in the school library — and $50 gift certificates — for creating outstanding posters. Nevada State College faculty and Basic staff members judged the contest, principal David Bechtel said.

But the contest is only one small leg of a monumental journey. The goal: engage 2,300 Basic students — and a large population with no college-graduated role models — in envisioning the possibility of pursuing higher education. So far, Bechtel said, the ongoing conversation is working.

“You could hear the kids talk about, ‘How do you put it on paper? What’s the message you want to send?’ ” he said of the poster contest. “It’s increased that kind of chatter about college. But I think it’s only the beginning.”

Kuniyuki said, “What we want to do is to instill a culture of college-going in all of the students. We want them to know from the very beginning that this is an avenue that is available to everyone and to have them think about the processes so they can walk through that particular door.”

“Nepantla” is the word he uses to describe the college’s portion of the federal money. It’s an indigenous term relating to people caught between two cultures, he explained.

The concept applies to students who don’t think they belong in college, including women, minorities and potential first-generation college students — those who sometimes feel that their life circumstances exclude them from even participating in the culture of higher education. Or they may be at risk of dropping out once they’ve started.

When it comes to bridging two cultures seemingly at odds, Kuniyuki added, “There’s absolute beauty on both sides, and it isn’t mutually exclusive. It’s ‘both/and.’ ”

To launch the poster contest as well as other college-oriented activities, including English class essay-writing and surveys involving several hundred students, Nevada State College representatives visited the high school. They discussed everything from applying to college and filling out federal student aid applications to the financial advantages of having a bachelor’s degree.

Kuniyuki said future plans include duplicating the posters around the Basic campus and filming Basic graduates who come to Nevada State College. They’ll share their college experience with old friends at Basic via a new breakthrough holographic technology, a “holographic poster,” on the high school campus.

Offering a bridge program for students over the summer, preparing them for college courses, is also planned. So is sharing faculty and professional development opportunities for Basic teachers, Kuniyuki and Bechtel said.

Approximately 40 percent of Basic graduates go to college, Bechtel said.

“Many of their family members haven’t gone to college,” he said. “People need to understand what a deficit that is, because for kids to think it’s a reality, they have to have some experience with it.”

Nevada State College has five partner high schools — Basic, Rancho, Eldorado, Chaparral and Sunrise Mountain. Last year, Kuniyuki said, former Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones mandated that each high school pair up with an institution of higher learning.

Understanding the struggle of some students in those partner schools comes naturally to many Nevada State College faculty members, who experienced “nepantla” in their own pursuit of education, Kuniyuki explained.

“It’s the challenge from family and friends who basically will vocalize and say, ‘What the heck are you doing? You don’t belong. Don’t waste your time,’ ” said.

Bechtel said the work ahead is about creating “a seamless path” for kids, from middle school to college.