For many high school graduates, going away to college can be daunting. But for first-generation students such as Glenda Vargas, of Mountain View, the leap was much more formidable.

“It was super scary,” said Vargas, 20, now a junior at Chapman University in Orange County. “When my mom calls and I try to tell her what I’m going through, it’s really, really hard to explain.” Her family didn’t have any idea about things such as tough classes, dorm living, Greek life and her recent role as a resident-assistant overseeing a floor full of freshmen.

Woman standing on spiral staircase as others walk by.

Glenda Vargas, of Mountain View, Calif., who is the first in her family to attend college, attends classes at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. on Thursday November 19, 2015. Vargas is a product of ALearn, a nonprofit math-preparation and college-readiness program tailored to low-income, underrepresented students. (Photo by Keith Durflinger/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

That Vargas made it to Chapman and is thriving is due to her own grit and courage, but also to ALearn, a nonprofit math-preparation and college-readiness program tailored to low-income, underrepresented students in the South Bay and on the Peninsula. A math teacher at Crittenden Middle School in Mountain View recommended her for a summer booster session in 2009.

It turned out to be a pivotal experience for the teenager, who commuted on an early-morning bus with her best friend to get to summer school by 7 a.m.

ALearn’s Catalyst program offers intensive six-week math instruction and high-school prep for incoming ninth-graders who otherwise might flounder just when they need to feel confident and resolute. ALearn offers similar booster programs for incoming sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

When Vargas took the ALearn class, it was combined with a college-prep program, known as AVID, for students who would be the first in their families to attend college. The program included science, English and community-building.

Vargas passed algebra I that summer and advanced to geometry as a freshman with other high-achieving students. She said she wouldn’t have been able to achieve it all without ALearn, which is offered free of charge to students who are recommended by teachers.

“Everything connected because of that summer,” she said. “Because I got that boost of confidence in math, I was able to explore opportunities in high school.”

While at Los Altos High, she tutored math to at-risk Crittenden students, became a leader of the Latino Student Union, completed calculus and was accepted to colleges.

Vargas was set to attend UC Santa Cruz when a visit to Chapman changed her mind.


Original article written by Sharon Noguchi of Mercury News:
Collegiate dreams become on-campus reality, Glenda Vargas