PAC's Puente program featured in newspaper
Photo credit to Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News
A group of students, faculty, and staff members from Palo Alto College's Puente program were featured in the July 1 issue of the San Antonio Express-News. The article, written by Daniella Diaz, spotlights the program's success after its first year. Click here to read the story.
Program promotes success in college
By Daniella Diaz
Yesenia Suarez, 19, wasn't a traditional college freshman. She married when she was 15 and now has two sons — but that didn't stop her from earning a 4.0 grade point average during her first two semesters at Palo Alto College.
Suarez credits some of that success to the guidance she received in the Puente program.
“I graduated high school (even though) everybody looked down on me, saying I wasn't going to graduate,” she said. “The only support I had was my husband. But when I came to Palo Alto, I met my teachers and they were the ones that gave me the support. My friends here gave me the support.”
The Puente program, funded by grants and student fees, trains instructors to help educationally disadvantaged students succeed in college, placing them in the same classes and incorporating outside activities and counseling in their weekly routine.
The program was created in California and named for the Spanish word for “bridge.” Palo Alto President Michael Flores brought it to Palo Alto last year when he saw how it worked at other colleges.
It is available to first-year Palo Alto students who need to take a remedial English course before taking freshman English. The first cohort, 47 students, took two classes together each semester for a total of four — one student development class; two English classes, including an integrated reading and writing course; and one psychology class — with instructors trained through the program.
The integrated reading and writing course used multicultural issues as subjects and 87 percent of the Puente cohort passed it, compared to the average 74 percent for a similar remedial reading and critical thinking course in the previous semester.
Each student is matched with a mentor from either the college administration, staff or community volunteers.
“It's the process of getting to know them, and not even the academic part but the personal part, too,” said Leandro Esparza, a senior recruiter, adviser for Palo Alto and a mentor in the program. “You develop a good relationship with the student that first year. I've learned a lot about myself from my student.”
Carolyn Martin, 42, who also earned a 4.0, said she believes the program is one of the best things she's ever done. An Australia native, she moved to Texas because her husband was in the military, and found herself at the college last fall.
“We're all cheerleaders for one another,” Martin said of her colleagues. “I really feel like the Puente teachers care about us. They take their time to guide us, to remind us that the light's not that far away in the tunnel.”
Suarez and Martin plan to stay in contact with friends in their cohort. To them, they will always be “puentistas.”