By Melissa Anderson
No one in Victoria Jimenez’ family has gone to college. The incoming freshman, who will attend Alisal High School in Salinas in the fall, hadn’t really considered college as an option. Her perspective changed this summer, when she attended a one-week camp at California State University, Monterey Bay, run by Girls, Inc. of the Central Coast.
“We went over there and we did talk about what do you need to do to go to college,” Jimenez said. “I learned that you can get scholarships that can help you to get to college.”
The summer camp is open to girls who will start as high school freshman in the fall from Monterey and San Benito counties, but Girls, Inc. offers other programs during the school year in Monterey for elementary, middle school and high school students.
There are 10 affiliates of Girls, Inc. in California, all with the goal of “inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold.” The nationwide nonprofit serves 136,000 students a year in the U.S. and Canada. While Girls, Inc. does not work only with minority students, many of the female students in the Monterey County area are Hispanic. A report from the University of California, Los Angeles found that as recently as 2006 Latino students were still often the first in their families to attend college.
More than 20 percent of Latino students had major concerns about financing their education compared to 8.6 percent of white students. Another 56.6 percent of Latino students indicated some concern about financing their education.
Elizabeth Contreras, a program director with Girls, Inc. of the Central Coast, said 52 girls attended the Smart Choices summer camp at CSUMB where they learned the options they have for college.
“They stay in the dorm rooms and have a roommate,” Contreras said. “They get to experience a little bit of college life.”
For many of the girls, it is their first look at a college campus.
Maya Tumbaga said she heard about the summer camp when Girls, Inc. staff members visited Marguerite Maze Middle School to talk about the program. She already knew she wanted to go to college and has her sights set on Stanford University.
Like Jimenez, it was Tumbaga’s first time to visit a college campus.
“It was a different experience to hang out in the dorms,” she said.
“For a lot of these girls, especially girls that live further in South County they have heard about college but have not really been to a campus or toured one,” Contreras said. “For a lot it is the first time to be away from home so that’s another experience.”
The week-long program touches on some of the same topics the girls learn about in the after school programs that are offered for free during the school year. The girls learn about bullying and self defense as well as how to maintain a healthy body image. They get tips on healthy eating and exercise. The days are busy during camp, with the girls up at 7 a.m. and staying busy until after 10 p.m. with workshops and activities.
“We talked about why physical activities are important and healthy eating versus unhealthy eating,” Contreras said. “We have a running clinic where they get to meet people who ran the Big Sur marathon.”
Contreras said the programs offered during the school year are free of charge, but the camp comes with a cost of $600 per student. With funding from the Community Foundation for Monterey, they have been able to keep the tuition to $360 per student for the summer camp. They also offer scholarships with donations from other organizations so any student who wants to attend isn’t hindered by the cost.
The programs for elementary school students focus on how to handle peer pressure as well as a unique program that teaches mothers and daughters how to communicate well. Geared for mothers or guardians with girls ages 9 to 12, it can help parents broach the topic of puberty as well as discuss the importance of healthy relationships as the girls get older. The Friendly PEERsuasion program is open to girls ages 11 to 14. It teaches them about decision-making, assertiveness and communication skills. The girls complete training and then put on substance-abuse prevention programs for younger children.
Jimenez attended one of the after school programs in eighth grade, where she learned a lot about health.
“I learned that you have to eat the right foods and the right amounts,” she said.
A cornerstone of the Girls, Inc. programs for high school students is providing mentorship and leadership opportunities. The girls serve as leaders for the younger students in the programs, helping to facilitate the Friendly PEERsuasion programs. Sophomore and junior girls can also participate in the ECHO Leadership program, which provides information on women’s health, allows them to get involved in community service, visit college campuses and meet women who are working in careers they may be interested in pursuing.
“It helped me think about more focusing on my academics and extracurricular than on how liked I am or how popular I am in high school,” Tumbaga said. “My favorite part was interacting with all the girls.”