Esperanza Wins National Recognition for Latinx Education

In her efforts to build relationships and provide support for Cleveland’s Latinx community, Clark-Fulton-based Esperanza makes high school education a priority.

“Our secret sauce is working with our students,” says Germaine Peña, Esperanza’s post-secondary program director. “When I was on a stock exchange, I had [an advisor] who was very flexible, but also applied a bit of tough love. She called me about what I was doing, and even though I was overwhelmed, she helped me do it.

Esperanza’s post-secondary program, which offers college mentorship, college scholarships, and offers support for first-generation Latinx students in their first and second years of college through its Lideres Avanzando (Advancing Leaders), a leadership development program.

The post-secondary program has been recognized by the national organization Excelencia In Education’s 2022 Example of Excelencia for Community Based Organizations.

Lideres Avanzando is part of Esperanza Post-Secondary Program

The award is the only national, data-driven initiative to recognize programs that accelerate Latinx success in higher education.

The designation establishes Esperanza as a national model of effective, culturally appropriate programming to support Latinx college success. In 2020, 99% of students participating in Esperanza University Support Programs were successful in college.

Esperanza will now serve as a national model to guide local organizations across the country in creating support programs that work for Latinx students.

Esperanza’s comprehensive post-secondary programming includes scholarships, instruction on how to navigate the complicated college system, mentorship, case management, and internship opportunities.

Esperanza Interns

Esperanza was first started in 1984 as a community project that offered a single $250 scholarship in the first year. The organization, whose name means “hope” in Spanish, has grown to the point of giving more than $100,000 in scholarships each year to students in the Cleveland area. Its goal is to primarily help Spanish-speaking students navigate high school and college and emerge with a degree that unlocks higher earning potential and greater self-confidence.

“We have [scholarship] students from coast to coast,” says Peña, adding that in addition to direct help, students are encouraged to hear speakers and work with mentors. “Our various workshops prepare our students so that they can successfully navigate their university experience and take advantage of on-campus resources.”

Sam ParedesSam Paredes says he hopes Esperanza will help him realize his dream of one day starting his own cybersecurity company. As an international student at Columbia, Paredes spoke no English when he arrived in Cleveland in 2017.

“When I arrived, I was not able to hold a conversation at all for the first two weeks,” Paredes recalled of arriving alone in Cleveland at age 16. “I participated in the Esperanza after-school program and it helped me understand the difference in how culture works.

Five years after arriving in Cleveland, Paredes says Esperanza helped him settle into his new surroundings. During his studies, Paredes enrolled in an after-school program at Esperanza.

“It feels like home,” he says of the organization. “They give very good advice. Not only academic and professional but also personal.

Paredes says the guidance and companionship provided by Esperanza has helped him focus on his future. “I was obsessed with computers [but the money my] the parents’ income will not be sufficient to pursue university studies, therefore [I needed] look for a scholarship.

He was encouraged by his guidance counselor when he attended James Ford Rhodes High School in Old Brooklyn to apply for and win one of Esperanza’s college scholarships. The award allowed Paredes to attend Baldwin Wallace University as a cybersecurity major. He expects to graduate this spring with his bachelor’s degree.

In the first two decades of its existence, Esperanza focused on closing the achievement gap for Latinx-area high school students, increasing graduation rates, and promoting college for those who have shown skills and interest.

In 2016, the organization expanded and formalized its post-secondary program, which trains students in what it takes to succeed in college, with a focus on mentorship, financial literacy, leadership training and social support. -emotional.

For first-generation students like Paredes, the program has become “a model of culturally appropriate, asset-based efforts with evidence of effectiveness in recruiting, retaining, graduating, and preparing for Latino students to succeed in the job market,” according to the wording of the Excelence Award.

“Esperanza was founded as a scholarship initiative,” explains Germaine Peña, Esperanza’s post-secondary program manager. “One of the main reasons why [we started it] was to promote post-secondary education. Our community leaders recognized that there was a big gap in higher education.

Peña speaks from experience. She was also a fellow and intern at Esperanza, and says the organization is a model for closing the achievement gap.

“In the early 2000s, the Latino graduation rate was 30%,” she explains. “Esperanza has partnered with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) to ensure students have the opportunity to earn their high school diploma. Fast forward, we now have [nearly] 100% Esperanza graduation rate students.”

Part of Esperanza’s success in closing the achievement gap over the past six years has been building its presence in 11 CMSD high schools. The organization works with school guidance counselors to direct Spanish-speaking students to Esperanza, where staff work to improve their social and emotional skills and college readiness.

Peña says the key to growing the program and gaining credibility with students is to be firm and flexible.

“They have the right to struggle and fail,” she says, “it’s about how they recover. We have seen students go from academic probation to brilliant students. It’s about finding what works because every [student] is different. It’s about managing their time effectively and taking on all the responsibilities that come their way.

Esperanza College Scholarship Program Mentor Dean KochEsperanza is like an ecosystem that supports growth and diversity, says Dean Koch, a Chagrin Falls-based marketing professional who volunteers as a mentor for Esperanza students. Koch recounts a time when he was in high school when he was discouraged from going to college due to his GPA. In this way, he says he understands that first-generation students may experience peer pressure to drop out of college.

“There may be people who say ‘don’t go’ or ‘you’re going to borrow [a lot of] money,” he said.

Koch says he tries to convey that college is still the best way to unlock generational wealth.

“In my mind, if you borrow $30,000 to go [Cleveland State University], it’s a huge investment in yourself,” he says. “Wealth building more typically comes with a college degree and a job with all the benefits and 401k consideration and when your income is enough to buy a house.”

Samuel NoyolaTranslating sacrifice into success
For Samuel Noyola, a first-generation college graduate in his twenties, there is a unique set of pressures, such as giving up a job that supports the family.

“If I hadn’t graduated from high school, all of my family’s sacrifices would have been in vain,” Noyola shares. “I spent the [GED] of a point, and the only reason I made it was because of Esperanza and it’s after school tutoring.

The Noyola family emigrated from the Dominican Republic to New York and eventually moved to Cleveland. Noyola was the first in his family to graduate from high school in Cleveland, and when it came time to consider his next step, Esperanza helped him take the leap.

Noyola joined Lideres Avanzando, in which he says he learned to navigate financial aid while getting a boost toward independence with assignments that required him to meet instructors and learn about internships.

“I was able to learn, first-hand, how to manage university,” he says. “As a first-generation student, we need to have organizations like Esperanza that understand our situation.”

Noyola says the Lideres program led to a college internship working with a financial planner, and upon transferring from Cuyahoga Community College to CSU, it gave her the confidence to negotiate the best financial aid package among her choices. .

Since earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business management from CSU, Noyola has become a financial representative with Cleveland’s financial planning firm Northwestern Mutual.

“I got into this business because I wish someone would do this with my family,” he says. “I help businesses and families grow efficiently, and that’s basically what Esperanza does; they help first-generation students grow in an effective way, based on the obstacles they normally face.

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