Fordham University graduated a considerably younger crowd last weekend.

More than 100 high school students and their families gathered at the Fordham Law School on June 20 to mark the end of the inaugural College and Career Readiness Saturday Instructional Program, sponsored by the Department of Education’s Division of English Language Learners and Student Support (DELLSS).

Over the course of 20 consecutive Saturday mornings, the students convened on Fordham’s Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses and other campuses around New York City, to learn about the college admissions process and get a firsthand look at higher education.

Two high schoolers from the College and Career Readiness Saturday Instructional Program. Photo by Michael Dames
Two high schoolers from the College and Career Readiness Saturday Instructional Program.
Photo by Michael Dames

“Many of these English language learners have never stepped foot into a university before, so they don’t even have hope for a college education,” said Diane Rodriguez, PhD, associate professor at the Graduate School of Education, who facilitated the collaboration between Fordham and the program. “This program helps them prepare for college and eventually a career.”

The students—most of whom are recent immigrants—worked with counselors to strengthen their academic English, learn about the college application process, receive SAT/ACT/TOEFL test prep, practice college admission interviews, and create a portfolio of their work.

“The program helps us to decide what we’re going to be,” said 15-year-old Gabriella Ortega, a sophomore at Hillcrest High School in Queens. “I’m going to become a lawyer, and I learned through this program that Fordham has a really good law school. So, now if I want to apply to Fordham, I can put on my resumé that I attended this program.”

The program reconvenes in October. Before then, the students will continue their college and career preparation via PreK-12 Plaza, free educational software they received at the June 20 ceremony. The software is offered in 17 languages and provides academic support for students and resources for parents.

One of the greatest benefits of the extra Saturday instruction was the opportunity to practice and improve their English, said Sandra Cardona, 15, a 10th-grader at Pan American International High School. Cardona said that the 20 weeks of engaging with counselors and classmates has helped her to overcome the language barrier she has encountered since moving to New York City from Honduras.

The program also afforded students the opportunity to reflect on their future goals.

“My main reason for going to college is because in Honduras, most students don’t go to college. Many don’t even finish school. They just start working,” Cardona said.

“I want to change that. I want to go to college to become a teacher, then go back to my country and teach students who can’t afford education.”

Fostering a love of both their new culture as well as their home culture was at the core of the program. A key message was that learning English and adapting to the American education system did not mean that there is any shame in being immigrants.

“Since I came to the United States, my experience has been that we have to learn a new language and fit in with this culture, and I thought I had to change my whole entire background,” Ortega said.

“But we [are taught]that our cultures are a good thing in this country. I realized that I should be proud of where I come from, and that as a Latina I can even be proud of my accent.”

Milady Baez, deputy chancellor of DELLSS. Photo by Michael Dames
Milady Baez, deputy chancellor of the Division of English Language Learners and Study Support.
Photo by Michael Dames

The keynote speaker for the event was DELLSS Deputy Chancellor Milady Baez, who shared her own story about emigrating from the Dominican Republic at age 12. When she came, she did not know a word of English. Today she holds a top position in the Department of Education.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “Many times you have to go to the dictionary, or reread a book more than once, because what comes easily for other students might take double the time for those of us who speak English as a second language.

“But I made a commitment to myself to go to college, become a teacher, and become a professional. And I did it.”


Joanna Klimaski Mercuri is a staff writer in the News & Media Relations Bureau. She can be reached at (212) 636-7175 or [email protected]