Schuler program sends 6 HPHS grads to top colleges

August 27, 2013

by Karen A. Berkowitz, Highland Park Sun Times | August 26, 2013


Veronica Torruco might easily have written off any chance of attending a pricey and prestigious college, but she and five peers from Highland Park High School’s Class of 2013 are doing just that.

As eighth graders five years ago, the students were tapped by the Schuler Scholar Program, which identifies students who would be the first in their families to attend college. The organization then provides the teens with support through their high school years so they are well-positioned for acceptance into top-notch colleges and universities.

The organization sets students’ sights on highly competitive private schools, which can offer more financial aid than other institutions.

“I have always known I was going to go to college,” said Torruco, a Highwood 18-year-old bound for Smith College in Northampton, Mass. “That wasn’t really a question.”

She expressed gratitude for the guidance and the opportunities that came her way. When she didn’t register for a foreign language class her freshman year, she received a call from Schuler, and revised her schedule.

The Schuler program financed her way to summer programs in New York and France, where she took classes in French and Avante Garde art, culture and fashion.

“They have sent me to places where I could never dream of going on my own,” said Torruco.

Marisol Izoteco recalled being so psyched by the Schuler prospect that she starting filling out the application the same day she received it.

“I got straight to it and began writing my essays,” said Izoteco, who is heading to Connecticut College, where she plans to study neuroscience.

The application asked why she wanted to be a Schuler Scholar and why she felt she deserved a place in the program.

“I wanted more opportunities than my parents had when they were my age,” said Izoteco.

With college clearly in sight, Izoteco built a strong record of extracurricular accomplishments, joining the Link Crew of ambassadors, participating in Estudiante to Student and serving as president of “Future Giants.”

All told, more than 50 scholars from high schools in Waukegan, Round Lake, Warren Township and Highland Park will begin their freshmen year at top colleges as a result of their participation. Some of the schools include Harvard, Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, Tufts and Wesleyan.

Students receive tutoring in core subjects during high school to allow them to handle the most rigorous courses. They go on field trips to expand their horizons and visit colleges during spring break their junior year.

Turroco was drawn to Smith College because the school has few course requirements and allows students a great deal of latitude in course selection. She also likes that the small, women’s college is part of a five-school consortium and she can enroll in classes at the other schools.

“I feel like I haven’t been exposed to enough things yet to really know what I might want to do,” said Torruco. “All I know right now is teacher, lawyer, doctor and there is a lot more than that.”

Candace Browdy, executive director of the Schuler Scholar Program, said many low-income students wrongly believe that access to the best colleges is not a reality for them.

In announcing the college choices of the Class of 2013, Browdy pointed to research showing the main reason high-achieving students with limited resources don’t attend such schools is that they don’t apply.

“Those lower income students who actually do apply to the best schools are just as likely as their richer peers to be admitted. They receive enough financial aid to make it feasible to attend and graduate,” she said.

Daniel Ocampo of Highwood was thinking along the lines of community college — wondering if he could afford the cost of a four-year school — when “out of nowhere” he was invited to a session explaining the Schuler program.

Ocampo will be attending Pfitzer College in Claremont, Calif., and is weighing majors in economics, media studies or computer science.

“I wanted a small school and the student-to-faculty ratio is low,” said Ocampo. “They have a lot of lab faculty for a small number of students, so you get that individualized approach.”

There are also opportunities to move among schools in the Claremont Consortium, which includes Pomona, Harvey Mudd, Claremont McKenna and Scripps.

Yari Cortez was won over by a Bates College poster in the Schuler Scholar office that showed a student reading a book while sitting in a canoe. A round of college visits to 10 schools only confirmed her decision to attend the Maine school and possibly pursue environmental studies.

Schuler Scholars in Highland Park’s Class of 2013 also include Eileen Fordham and Luis Vargas.


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