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The Girl That Lived Her Life with Two Personalities

Angie Pleitez is a student at Santaluces Community High School in Palm Beach County, Florida, and a member of the Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program. Below are excerpts of an article she wrote as part of the program. 

Hello. My name is Angie Pleitez and I would like to share my story, the story that made me realize to always be grateful for everything that happens to you, whether it’s good or bad. Ever since I was little, I was depicted as the person in my family that could be different from the rest. My parents always reassured me that I was going to be the one in the family to make a difference and rise to the top. They always told me that I had the opportunity that no one else in my family had, which was to get a full education and be someone important in the world. I am the daughter of two immigrant parents who risked everything to give a better future for their child. That’s a huge amount of pressure to put on someone, but I didn’t think much of it when I was younger. I just thought of myself as just another child that played outside and hung out with her friends. What I didn’t know when I was younger was all the actions happening behind the scenes.

To start, when I was little, I had to stay with a babysitter most of the time because my mother worked from the morning to the night and my father would work from the morning to past midnight. Sometimes they would barely get sleep because when they came home, they still had to take care of me. From the time and effort they put in their laborious jobs, they were able to afford my school supplies, my backpack, after-school care, all necessary components for me to have the best school experience. They always praised me for getting good grades, which gave me boosts in my confidence and self-esteem. I was on the honor roll and earned recognition for my intelligence. I was always very proud of my intelligence and perseverance at such an early age. It continued this way all the way up to 5th grade. It was getting to that point where my life was going to take a sharp turn, which was my teen years.

I was scared that I was taking a huge step in my life. I’ve never liked change ever since I moved away from where I grew up when I was 7. I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was going to be in a different environment and going to be experiencing something I’ve never experienced before. My parents tried to reassure me that everything was going to be okay; that it’s just another phase of my life that everyone goes through as well, but I already had the idea instilled in me that things would go downhill from here. My middle school years destroyed not only my academic achievements but my self-worth. I was at my lowest point, and I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone. I was especially hesitant to tell my parents because I didn’t want them to know their “star child” wasn’t shining as bright as before. As time passed by, I could feel that I was slowly starting to lose myself. I felt unhappy and unmotivated all the time, and I didn’t care for most things anymore. I felt numb and I felt like I wasn’t living a life anymore – at least, not the life I wanted to lead. I was willing to do anything to take the pain away which would have led to life-threatening consequences. I’m glad that I stuck around because I later on realized that the pain doesn’t last forever and that things get better, maybe not right away but they eventually do. This is when I found the Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program.

The program opened my eyes to see that I still had an opportunity to turn myself around. It felt like this program could be my chance of getting out of this dark place I was heading into. I found it as I was entering high school, and I can honestly say that it turned my life around for the better. I felt myself getting my academic achievements back and the joy of feeling proud of myself back. I felt like I had a purpose again, a purpose to keep going and continue to always do better than the day before. I started doing better in school and got recognized for all the great things I was doing. I felt my parents grow happier and their pride for me grew. I talk to them about my future and college and they can’t help but be so overwhelmed with happiness. Yes, there are many obstacles that try to knock me down to the position I was in before, but I grew out of that point in my life and I don’t ever want to go back. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, no matter the circumstances my family and I go through.

The Take Stock/Johnson Scholars Program, my family, and the friends who actually want the best for me have helped me realize that life is worth so much. I can create a great future for myself if I want to. I can go to a great college if I want to. I have a chance that not many people have, and that means so much to me.


Angie Pleitez is a Junior at Santaluces Community High School

Early Intervention – Creating Belief in the Eighth Grade

In 2015, the sixth and newest president of SUNY Ulster, Dr. Alan P. Roberts, arrived at SUNY Ulster with an inspirational plan to reach eighth-grade students and to engage them in college during grades nine to 12. Embarking on a bold plan of early intervention to reach all nine school districts in Ulster County, President Roberts engaged the Ulster College Foundation, Inc. in rolling out the pilot plan for the President’s Challenge Scholarship in 2016.

Dr. Alan P. Roberts and a President’s Challenge Scholarship recipient

Dr. Roberts felt that the important aspects behind the creation of the President’s Challenge Scholarship were that students need to be engaged academically at an early age, but also that they are engaged in the big picture aspects of college preparation as early as eighth grade. A broad scope of engagement was envisioned and incorporated as core components of the scholarship with the idea of building a belief in each student in their successful futures. The program started with the goal of changing lives by helping first-generation economically disadvantaged students with overcoming socio-economic barriers associated with attending college. Six students were identified as inaugural recipients who would most benefit from a mentorship program during high school to guarantee their success and make higher education a reality as first-in-family to (potentially) graduate college. Key donors met the challenge to sponsor and support them on this journey. By the 2019-20 school year, 49 eighth graders from all nine school districts in Ulster County were added to the scholarship classes. Today a scholarship contingent that is approximately 100 strong is growing by 50 new eighth-graders from all of the nine school districts to form a formidable group of diversified and dedicated students who have committed to “Taking the President’s Challenge.” The scholarship provides the solution to our students’ first obstacle – how their education will be funded! Imagine the impact of this overture of belief! Empowering first-generation college students on the path to and through college is the impetus for this challenge, and we see that impact firsthand in the faces of the recipients – and in the pride they feel when arriving on campus. SUNY Ulster assigns college mentors to PCS recipients and provides counseling and support for these students at their high school, at events on the SUNY Ulster campus, and online. Imagine a ninth-grade student meeting their mentor at a campus-based event. Imagine 10th- and 11th-grade students receiving program content and college enrollment guidance while on SUNY Ulster’s college campus. Students take campus tours, meet faculty, obtain college I.D. badges, and have lunch with the President. We wrap up the days on campus with college notebooks, hats, drink containers, and other college identified items to help our students bring home with them a small part of their newly developed opportunity.

At the school districts, college staff meets with PCS students four to six times per year and collaborates with school administration to schedule visits, monitor students’ academic progress as it relates to scholarship requirements, and identify possible support needs as they relate to student success.

Engagement opportunities for PCS students are also created at the high schools on various topics including academic planning, financial literacy, career exploration, college lingo, progress reports, portal engagement, and leadership. They also discuss college readiness topics such as time/stress management, networking, conflict resolution, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence.

This year has been a challenge for all of us given COVID-19 precautions, and so in 2020-2021, support for virtual/remote learning opportunities will be added to the programming for PCS, as well as online student group discussions. PCS college mentors will also support new PCS students as they become familiar with SUNY Ulster technology including email and online learning.

Through the college mentors, students are advised on Early College (on-campus) and the Collegian Program, which allows students to earn credits towards an Associate’s Degree in their high schools. They also learn about admissions, financial aid, and SUNY Ulster campus resources.

Belief might begin with the notice of acceptance into the President’s Challenge Scholarship program and the knowledge that someone is dedicated to their education. But ownership of one’s future is what is born once a student is engaged in the program, and for that, we find ourselves eternally indebted to those who funded this opportunity and those who continue to do so. Exposure to opportunity might have a quantified value, the cost of an education for this year, for example; but belief in oneself is a gift that stays within a student forever. It informs them in a manner that permits them to take risks and to be bold and to speak up for themselves – this is a gift that has no price tag – it is character-forming and life-changing, and that is what comes from belief.

Lorraine Salmon is Executive Director of Institutional Advancement and External Relations for SUNY Ulster and the Ulster Community College Foundation, Inc. Fourteen of the President Challenge Scholarship students have been sponsored by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Bus Tickets, Pathways to Education, and Potential Greatness

Growing up, I had always had a bit of trouble when it came to academics, especially math. I couldn’t easily understand numbers as much as I wanted to. As the courses advanced, I found myself more and more confused than I had been the year before. In 2013, when I was starting Grade 9, I came across an opportunity to join a program called Pathways to Education. The flyer detailed all the resources the program provided to its participants, and it was all without cost.

To anyone reading this flyer, I’m sure the opportunity would sound too good to be true. I was not excited. I was offended that I was being offered tutoring. Unrightfully so, I had a negative outlook about tutoring, even though no one placed these notions in my mind. I don’t know where the mindset came from, but because of it, I did not register for a program that would have helped my Grade 9 year flow a lot smoother. This was a decision that I regret to this day.

For me, the bus tickets weren’t the only beneficial aspect . What had me coming back to the program every day was the incredible support at Pathways. The staff genuinely wanted to see the students succeed. Their help was never-ending, and it really made me feel welcomed very quickly. When at tutoring, they were quick to set me up with a volunteer who walked me through my math unit. They taught me the subject in such a clear way that I finally had that “eureka!” moment I long desired. The staff and volunteers helped me succeed through high school more than I ever imagined.

Since beginning the program, I have talked to the staff there as if they were friends. I would seek out advice from them, which helped my decision-making skills in the long run. I made connections with the trusted staff that I never thought I could make. They made me feel as if I had a voice– a voice worth listening to.

Youth tend to feel unimportant and parented by those in authority, so having mentors that understood and listened was worth a thousand words. Now I have connections that will last a life time, as well as loving friends who were also in the program. I give some of the credit of my successes to the Pathways program because without it, I never would have realized that I have potential for greatness.

Sidra is a recent graduate of Pathways to Education Canada, an organization that provides youth from low-income communities with the resources they need to graduate from high school and break the cycle of poverty.

Start Planning for College the Day You Start High School

Going through the college admissions process is as much an opportunity to learn about yourself as it is a journey to define and pursue your future college and career goals. Path to College aims to demystify this competitive and sometimes overwhelming process by providing in-depth and comprehensive expert advice to students across our county regardless of economic background. As a partner of Achieve Palm Beach County along with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we are committed to increasing the rate of students preparing for, enrolling in, and persisting through degree credentialing programs. With that shared mission in mind, we are happy to share a few quick tips to help you manage your career and college search.

9th Grade — Take a Career Aptitude test through a free account at My Career Shines. Next, explore the suggested careers through volunteer and enrichment opportunities. Consider how you can plan your course load to prepare for this career path. Look for academically rigorous courses. Challenging electives like journalism, debate, or high-tech computer classes are a great way to round out your transcript. Talk often and excitedly about your goals or ideas for your future. Look for opportunities and feedback. Expert tip: The Admissions committee loves to see more than two years of a foreign language on your transcript. Science courses are the number one reason students do not graduate on time. Make sure to get your required science classes completed as soon as possible. Do not put them off and plan on taking two at once!

10th Grade — Seek advanced coursework and volunteer opportunities that match your career interests. Take your PERT test and try to dual enroll over your summer break. Otherwise, try to find a job, internship, or volunteer opportunity that will help you gain skills for the workforce.

11th Grade — Complete a virtual tour or on-campus tour. Research the colleges you are interested in at College Navigator. Study for your SAT or ACT regularly, aiming to put in at least one to two hours a week. There are free online preparation resources through Khan Academy or ACT Academy Aim to revise your personal statement (College application essay) three to five times over summer. Get a second reader, and make sure to follow the instructors.

12th Grade — Choose three teachers to ask for a recommendation letter. Give them between two to four weeks to prepare. Ask them, “Can you write me a STRONG recommendation letter?” In October, fill out your FAFSA. Apply to your dream school during early admission in November. Set a goal to apply to one college every other week and stick to it. Use the Common App to help manage the process. Apply to scholarships between October and March and shoot for one a week. Use your personal statement as a starting template and rework for each scholarship you apply for.

Additional resources for students and parents are available on the Achieve Palm Beach County website at achievepbc.org/resources.

Christine Sylvain is the Founder and Executive Director of the Path to College Fellowship, whose mission is to secure the acceptance of as many high-achieving, low-income students into top-tier universities as possible.