Writing Program

Talent Search Scholarship Boot Camp

High school students working to get their feet in college door

Event aims to help pupils with writing, application skills

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Twenty-four high school seniors from Ignacio, Pagosa Springs, Mancos and Durango spent an intense day at the Fort Lewis College Talent Search Bootcamp on Saturday, writing essays and practicing interviewing for scholarships and colleges, said director Wendy Javier. Academic advisor Jessica Adams, right, helps a student with an essay. At rear are Pagosa Springs High School seniors Aidan McGinn, left, son of Edward and Andrea McGinn, and Lorenzo Sosa, right, son of Lorenzo and Guadalupe Sosa.

Gabby Bufanda is a senior at Ignacio High School and wants to go to college. She’s interested in psychology. She’s also wants to apply for scholarships that could curb some of the cost of her education, and with good reason. In 2011, the average cost of one year at a public college, including room and board, was $13,600, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Director Wendy Javier, right, lends a hand to Pagosa Springs High School senior Aidan McGinn, son of Edward and Andrea McGinn, at the Fort Lewis College Talent Search Bootcamp on Saturday at the John F. Reed Library on the FLC campus.Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Director Wendy Javier, right, lends a hand to Pagosa Springs High School senior Aidan McGinn, son of Edward and Andrea McGinn, at the Fort Lewis College Talent Search Bootcamp on Saturday at the John F. Reed Library on the FLC campus.

That is up more than 40 percent from 10 years earlier, and costs are only increasing. For many, a scholarship may be the only way.

Bufanda, along with 30 other students from Durango, Cortez, Mancos, Ignacio and Pagosa Springs, attended the second annual Fort Lewis Talent Search Boot Camp at FLC on Saturday to hone their writing and application skills in hope of reaching their college goals.

Talent Search is an arm of a federally funded program called TRIO, which was developed in 1965 to help financially challenged students continue their education. Now overseen by the Department of Education, TRIO has helped 800,000 students who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to pursue higher education.

Wendy Allsbrook Javier, local director of Talent Search, called the program a “valuable collaboration between the community, TRIO Talent Search and FLC, in the interest of helping high achieving, first-generation college-bound students.”

College may not have seemed like an option for many of the students and their families, Javier said.

“The majority of these students are first-generation college students,” she said. “They’re really working on a whole new path for their families, so I think it’s pretty exciting. They’re stepping forward and starting something new.”

For a student to qualify for Talent Search, neither biological parent can have a college degree. Applicants who are accepted into the program receive guidance from faculty members and student tutors from the FLC writing program.

Michele Bonanno, who teaches freshman and sophomore composition courses at FLC, was helping students with application essays. She said students who work to improve their writing skills will reap the benefits for the rest of their careers.

“Good writing is empowering,” she said. “We tell students that writing is a way to accomplish things. It does something for them.”

Bonanno said many students are challenged by the personal nature of the essays.

“In a scholarship essays, it’s a really risky kind of writing, telling your own story. We’re here to help them be successful,” she said.

LaVonne Graves, who works with students in Ignacio and Pagosa Springs as an academic advisor, said there’s a clear change in students after the workshop.

“They come in as these little high school students, but they get so much feedback throughout the day, by the end everything makes more sense to them. It’s huge, in their confidence and their work,” Graves said.

“A majority of our students from last year were awarded significant scholarships,” she added.

Student tutor Alex Thompson said the program offers more than just help with applications.

“I can see how students become much more excited about the college experience,” Thompson said. “It’s transformative, and the writing is a catalyst for that.”

Javier said the program has lost government funding but is still afloat with help from the FLC Writing Center and the FLC Foundation. She also said that competition for scholarships is getting tougher.

“Even if students take the maximum (loans), they can’t even start college unless they’re living at home,” she said. “There a lot riding on these guys. It’s cool to see them stepping up to the plate.”

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