Alysha Carrasquillo: Northern Essex Community College in Partnership with Lawrence High School

aacI often tell people that I did not find MA Campus Compact, instead they found me. The reason I say this is because the experience was very serendipitous. As a MACC AmeriCorps VISTA, I would be working with my alma mater Lawrence High School, giving back to the community that had ignited my pursuit for higher education and inspired me to succeed. I have spent the past year working with Northern Essex Community College in partnership with the Health and Human Services high school at Lawrence High School Campus in Lawrence. I will be completing my year of service this November 19th and as I look back on my work as a VISTA, I can’t help but be proud of myself for overcoming all of the challenges that came my way.

90% of the student body at Lawrence High school are low income Hispanic students, making LHS a Hispanic serving institution with very particular needs. One-third of these students are English language learners and for 70% of the students English is not their first language. Most of the students that graduate from LHS and pursue higher education will be the first in their family to go college. Currently, Lawrence High School is under receivership and is undergoing a “Turnaround Plan” proposed by Receiver/Superintendent Jeffrey Riley. Lawrence High school entered receivership in 2012 when the dropout rate at the high school was more than 50% and students were underperforming in the MCAS test.

My task as a VISTA was to focus on a group of 40 sophomore students from the Health and Human Services High School and help in their academic preparation in order to pursue health careers in the future. Students were exposed to a Health Careers Survey Course freshman year that informed them about the various existing health careers. From the freshman class, a cohort of 40 students was chosen to continue onto the sophomore year of the pathway. These students would be exposed to a college success course with a focus in literature that was developed by both NECC and HHS staff geared towards boosting students’ reading and writing skills. Also, students would be required to take Chemistry a year earlier than expected, since chemistry is usually taken junior year.

I was tasked with the responsibility of developing an after school chemistry tutoring program for these 40 students that were required to take Chemistry. I along with my community volunteer, Ed Warnshuis, approached Pfizer, Inc. in the hopes that some of their chemists might be interested in tutoring our students. We recruited a total of 14 mentors that would meet with 30 of our students every Thursday during the 2016-2017 academic year. The program ran for 25 sessions and the students that were fully invested in the program succeeded in their Chemistry course. Some students were even able to compete with their academically proficient peers that had not needed tutoring. All in all, the program was such a success that we hope to continue the tutoring program for the 2016-2017 academic year. This means that I will not participate in the coordination of the program for the full year but I will help in its initial implementation.

Throughout my MACC VISTA experience, I can truly say that I have grown in every aspect of my life, both professionally and personally. I have learned to move out of my comfort zone and advocate for student needs. I have also learned to tailor my programs to my students’ needs in order to ensure their future success. I have become better at communicating with individuals from different walks of life and distinct points of view. Personally, I have matured greatly in the way that I view life and its various unexpected twists and turns. I have discovered how resilient and strong I am in the face of adversity. I have also renewed my strength and motivation to go back to school and finish my Masters degree.

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