ESCALERA supports Avondale High School youth

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ESCALERA Students prepare for STEM night during their afterschool session in Avon Grove High School.

WEST GROVE — ESCALERA, a national program from UnidosUS, is currently serving about 1,000 students in 21 sites nationwide.  The career readiness program focuses on opening eyes and doorways for underrepresented youth that may not have a family history or experience in pursuing higher education.  “It is important to have a program like this,” said Brian Luna, a high school junior in the program who is interested in studying psychology.  “A lot of us don’t realize all that you have to do to apply to college.” LCH (La Comunidad Hispana) offers the ESCALERA model to students in southern Chester County through Avon Grove high school, where thirteen students meet after school once a week.

Lorena Baeza, instructor for ESCALERA, said that programs like these are essential for connecting first generation students to higher education.  “Growing up, my parents did not understand English, let alone how to navigate the education system. But thanks to Upward Bound at Lincoln University, I was able to achieve higher education.”  Baeza was born in Mexico and then moved to the United States.  She graduated from Avon Grove High School in 2003 and completed her bachelor’s in psychology and Spanish with California University of Pennsylvania.  Baeza has spent her career working with local youth.  “It is so rewarding to be a part of this,” she said. “I have firsthand experience of what these students are going through.  I can relate.  I was literally in their shoes.”

In addition to the after-school sessions with Baeza, which include leadership building skills, career exploration, and a review of the application process for higher education, ESCALERA recently hosted a family STEM night at Avon Grove High School.  ESCALERA students taught STEM activities to attendees, including homemade slime, lava lamps, and ice cream.  A panel of local professionals spoke to the students and reflected not only on their STEM career paths, but also on their experiences as first generation students. The panelists were: Dr. Federico Ceppa, MD, Primary Care Medical Director at LCH, Oscar Ogando, IT Support Specialist at LCH, Natalia Duchini, Global Director of Business Development for Titanium Technologies at The Chemours Company, and Anel Medina, RN, Registered Nurse at Chester County Hospital.

“ESCALERA is connecting our youth not only at a local level, but at a national one”, said Norma Diego-Flores, Outreach and Education Coordinator at LCH.  Juniors Joseline Ayala Escobar and Nancy Castaño have been selected to attend a two-day Youth Summit in Los Angeles, CA next month.  “It will be an amazing opportunity for our youth to connect with other students and to and learn more about future career paths,” she said.

LCH hopes to continue to host ESCALERA in the coming years, with a possible expansion to younger grades as well.  High School junior Maria Hernandez said that she is getting a lot out of the program, and she wants to see it stay. “It prepares you for the future,” she said.  “The instructors are helping me think about my career and the education I need to get there.”

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