Cristina Rodriguez '09
LaGuardia Community College ASAP '09
American University '12
Intern, Tu Parque, Tu Salud (through the National Park Service and the American Heart Association)
Federal Work Study employee, Center for Latin American and Latino Studies
I was born in Queens and raised in Brooklyn and Queens. My family moved a lot, so there was no place I stayed for too long except Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Jackson Heights, Queens. School was an exciting time for me as a child. I was very eager to learn the English language. (Spanish was my first language, which I learned at home through my parents and other family members.) I was usually the quiet one in class but I showed a lot of interest and potential to excel. It was not until 5th grade that I showed signs of struggle. After being stable for a while in Williamsburg, my parents moved to Jackson Heights, Queens. I started junior high there and struggled with my identity as someone from Brooklyn. It was also a big cultural shock because at my school in Queens there was a mixed group of kids from all over the world, which was different from the school I had attended in Brooklyn, where students were mostly African American and Latino. I struggled academically because the acceleration of the courses was faster than how I was taught in elementary school. There was course material that I had never covered in class before. I went to summer school my first year there and that is when I began to be hard on myself in terms of academic performance. It was no longer fun to be in school, but a requirement in order to succeed and get out. I excelled to my highest capacity; still it was not enough and I barely got by.
My parents tried their best to help me with homework and the different assignments given to me, but they were preoccupied with their jobs and they were also behind in the material that was being taught. I read below my grade level and sometimes wasn’t even interested in reading as much as I used to be.
After graduating from junior high I was accepted to my zone school, Bryant High School, because my academic grades did not meet the standards for Fiorello LaGuardia High School in Manhattan, a performing arts high school. I wanted to be a singer. At Bryant High School I joined the Theater Company, the Girls Choir and the Dance Company. I was active in getting the funds needed for shows for my extracurricular activities and I was also very active in helping fellow students in the group. What reflected poorly on me was my academic record. I barely got by and most of the time did because I showed effort in class and the desire to pass. There were many classes that focused more on creative writing and speaking in class, where I excelled the most. But most of the classes focused on test taking, which showed me where my weakness was.
After graduating from high school I realized that I had not proven to my parents that I was serious enough about college. I applied to many performing arts colleges, but did not get into any because of my grades. I had nothing else to do after high school. I tried convincing my parents to pay for my education at a community college or a city college, but they did not trust that I would fulfill the requirements to continue on.
I was stuck working for about four years until I was able to gain credit and take out loans under my name in order to attend LaGuardia Community College. I used my credit cards to pay for my books and metro card as well. After seeing this, my father occasionally gave me money while I was in school. Still it was not enough and I had bills that I needed to pay each month. Without a job and in school full time I finished the semester with a 3.4 GPA. I did not know how I was going to afford the next semester.
I was helping a friend get into the ASAP program by just being there for her whenever she needed moral support. I became interested in it and took advantage of the program, getting myself admitted at the last minute. I joined the ASAP program because I knew it was the only chance I had to continue my education. I was also interested in the opportunity I would have in speaking to an advisor about all of my concerns and how I could better succeed. I thought to myself, “maybe I can even find a program like this for my four year school!”
When I became an ASAP student I expected to have the same freedom I had before the program in picking my classes. I also thought I would be able to meet with my advisor whenever I wanted. I did not know that there were rules and regulations, but I was willing to meet them once I got into the program because I understood the experience as a give and take.
I really appreciated ASAP's financial support because it was my biggest barrier to continuing my education. I also enjoyed my individual time with my academic advisor because I was able to talk to her about issues in classes. I always got good advice on how to deal with the stresses in class and how to manage the stresses at home. I also enjoyed the cluster classes with other ASAP students because we were always together and we knew what our shared struggles were. It was like having a support team of friends, though it was stressful to not have the freedom to choose our own classes.
I think the most important elements of the ASAP program are its ability to keep a group of students together and its ability to educate them through workshops and trips. It’s also important that ASAP gives those students the opportunity to meet with individual advisors one on one and get the support they need. This saves students a lot of time compared to students who are on their own and trying to figure out what they need to do in order to get financial aid or register for classes. As ASAP students we were no longer a number at LaGuardia. We were called by our first names!
ASAP made me appreciate my education the way I did when I started school as a child. I enjoyed most of it and learned that a lot of hard work needs to be put into it. I also learned that failing is part of success, because through failing you learn what went wrong and what can be done to fix it when you get up and do it again.
I learned that there needs to be an army of people to help students succeed in school. Students cannot stand alone and do it all alone; they need a support team that has the highest expectations of them, but also gives them the tools they need in order to accomplish the goals that are in the hearts of the students, but also in the hearts of their supporters.
While I was in the ASAP Program, my academic advisor nominated me to the Kaplan Leadership Program, which helps students with the transition from their two year college to their four year college. They also helped with external barriers that might hinder other students in their educational pursuits. I was accepted into The Kaplan Leadership Program and I am now attending American University in Washington, DC. The Kaplan Leadership Program as taught me at an advanced level what it means to really be a leader, as well as provide support that I did not think existed in a program.
I am now a senior at American University and I am majoring in an interdisciplinary major called Communications, Legislations, Economics, and Government. I was able to intern with a state senator in Massachusetts, and with a congressman on Capitol Hill. I also interned this summer with the Gateway National Park Recreation Area in New York City through an outreach program that promotes healthy living to Latino communities by using the Gateway National Park. The Program is called “Tu Parque, Tu Salud,” and I will be taking part of an extension this fall semester to create an event through the program in Washington, DC. The program is funded by the National Park Service and the American Heart Association.
My career goals are to be an advocate in a non-profit organization to help low-income communities, especially Latino communities, in promoting healthy living, as well as how to be active citizens in their communities. I also hope to attend law school so I can take a lead role in health and educational policies that affect many low-income communities. This would also involve talking to people in the community on how to be better informed and active.
I think ASAP opened my eyes to what is really needed to get an education and how much hard work is put in to help students succeed. ASAP really changed me as a student because I know now that I have the ability to make it further in my educational career, not only because I need it to become successful but because it provides me with the tools to grow and excel in other aspects of life. I was able to reflect in all that I did and analyze my behavior in certain situations whether in class or outside of class.
Before ASAP I had the mentality of “get in and get out” but I realized that what I really wanted was to understand what I was learning in class so that I can use it in the future. I also changed my major after graduating from LaGuardia Community College because through the Kaplan Leadership Program and many talks with my ASAP advisor I learned that what I wanted to do the most was to help people, rather than to be a businesswoman.
The ASAP program opened the door to exploring my dreams and ambitions. It helped me get the tools I needed to continue on.