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Reaching for caps and gowns: Latina Summer Academy helps girls aspire to college.

Caption: Technology teacher Heather Shockey helps Lizbet Aguilar paste a link onto the Latina Summer Academy website on June 25, 2013. While the girls consider college, the program also allows them to engage in science- and technology-related fields so that their confidence in those areas can grow. Gaston said: "[We] make them realize it's fun ... and that they can get into careers in those fields."

Caption: Ivanna De Coss, left, holds a cup with blue chalk while Jazmin Tejada pours egg yolk to make Tempera paint in a science class during the 2013 Latina Summer Academy.

Caption: Attorney Stephanie Martinez, right, talks with Alma Calderon, middle, and Natalia Hernandez about being an attorney and the girls' plans for their future June 26, 2013. As part of the Latina Summer Academy, Latina professionals in a variety of fields meet with the girls for conversation and Questions during lunches and a supper.

Chicana artist Linda Garcia, left, shows 2013 Latina Summer Academy participants the effects of stippling, or punching into aluminum, after her repujado presentation. Repujado is the art of Mexican metal embossing and the girls created one of their own after Garcia's presentation.

Story and photos by ELOISA PEREZ-LOZANO

OMAHA, NEB. * The College of St. Mary's Latina Summer Academy works to instill a desire for higher education into participants, who are young Latinas in the ninth and 10th grades from anywhere in the country.

Started in 2001, the program, which is scheduled this year for June 23-28, includes classes, educational field trips and living on campus, according to Latina Summer Academy director Maria Luisa Gaston.

Studies about Latinas conducted in the early 2000s found that they were among the biggest groups of high school dropouts and there was a higher risk of them not going on to college, she said.

"By and large, the Latinas come from low-income families or there's just not money there in terms of planning for college." she said. "That is a big obstacle for them to go to college ... much less a four-year private college." Gaston says many Latinas think of going to the College of St. Mary, an Omaha women's college sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, but choose not to because of the cost. However, resources like loans and scholarships are available, and even if students are undocumented, they still can be eligible for grants and scholarships.

Gaston said one of the program's main goals is to encourage Latina girls to do well academically and to "support their aspirations for completing high school and enrolling in college."

[Eloisa Perez-Lozano was a NCR Bertelsen intern.]

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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1U4NE
Date:Feb 28, 2014
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