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College Connections project serves first generation students

This summer, college counselor Ms. Gina Liberotti, Co-Director of Campus Ministry Dr. Evelyn Jimenez Mabra, theology teacher Dr. Jesse Rodriguez, Assistant Principal of Supervision Dr. Ricardo Pedroarias ’84, and Director of Counseling, Mr. Paul Jordan ’88, launched a project to assist first-generation college-bound students with their transition into Loyola High and eventually into college.

The cohort of rising freshmen “first generation college applicants came from across all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds,” said Ms. Liberotti. The students attended the new summer session hybrid course, freshman Summer Reading 9 and College Connections, both of which were taught by theology teacher Dr. Jesse Rodriguez, who was brought onto the project planning committee by the team for his significant research expertise and teaching experience.

“The project came to life with the First-Generation Summer Project,” said Ms. Liberotti in an emailed statement. “The College Connections course was designed to give first-generation students entering Loyola High School a support system to successfully transition into high school.” According to Ms. Liberotti, 17 percent of students at Loyola self-identify as first-generation college applicants.

Loyola introduced a reliable standardized method of collecting data on first-generation students by adding an option to select the status on the school registration form.

English teacher Ms. Christine Alcantar, Spanish teacher Mr. José Sustaita, who was responsible for translating the project documents to Spanish, and social science teacher Mr. Jamal Adams ’90 have all directly supported the project as well. Founders Ms. Liberotti, Dr. Pedroarias, Dr. Jimenez Mabra and Dr. Rodriguez were all first generation college applicants.

According to Dr. Pedroarias, the cost of the entire project was covered by Loyola as a way to make it as inclusive as possible. He said the school is looking into the possibility of establishing second-, third- and fourth-year summer programs for this year’s cohort and those in the future.

Freshman Brandon Ortiz is among the group of students who participated in the initial project this summer. “I think Loyola is doing an amazing job in building up the College Connections class, and I know it will make a huge impact in the lives of first-generation students now and in the future,” he said.

“The way I saw it, they want the students to do the summer reading so that they start to get a feeling for Loyola’s academics. They have a teacher like Dr. Rodriguez who knows where they’re coming from and who will work with them to ease them into Loyola,” said senior Andrew Perez. “The second class [College Connections] is really unpacking your identity, what it means to be a first-generation student, what are colleges like, things of that nature,” said Perez of the College Connections course.

A first-generation student, Perez served as an unofficial teacher’s assistant during the Summer Reading 9 period and as a senior mentor during the second period College Connections class. He said it was “very powerful” to be involved in the project.

During the five week course, the students also had the opportunity to visit the Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and University of Southern California (USC) to learn more about the schools’ support systems for first-generation students.

“An integral part of the summer project is a partnership between LMU and its “First to Go!” program and USC and its newly launched first-generation support program,” said Ms. Liberotti.

“I’m now helping guide these freshmen and helping them shape their journey through Loyola differently than [how]I went through it, and it’s powerful,” said Perez. “They now know what it’s going to be like, and it really changes their perspective.”

Perez has also expanded the mission of the project through his founding of a First-Generation Students Association, which he hopes will extend the summer experience into the school year. The club will be open to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, and races who identify as first-generation.

To learn more about Loyola’s First-Generation Project please contact Dr. Jesse Rodriguez, Dr. Evelyn Jimenez Mabra, Ms. Gina Liberotti, Mr. Paul Jordan ’88, Dr. Ricardo Pedroarias ’84 or club president, senior Andrew Perez.


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