Garden City is home to thousands of immigrants who have settled there. Tyson Foods and other agri-businesses are experiencing a workforce shortage and are recruiting workers from around the world, especially Central and South America, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. In fact, Finney County is now one of only six counties across the nation that has a majority-minority population.
While that presents tremendous opportunities, it poses challenges for schools. With a total enrollment of just under 2,000 and growing, Garden City High School has a minority population of about 80% and 60% of students are classified as economically disadvantaged, and the rising percentage of students where English is not the primary language spoken at home.
As member of the Kansas State College Advising Corps, Aguirre is one of 23 recent college graduates tasked with helping increase the number of first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented high school students entering and completing college. KSCAC is part of a national network, College Advising Corps, and supports students in selecting their best-fit postsecondary plans by helping them navigate the college admissions and financial aid processes.
Like other advisors, Aguirre works hard to meet the needs of students and their families who see going to college as an impossible dream. Advisors work in conjunction with school staff in helping students navigate the college admission and financial aid processes, which involves meeting with parents. She does her best to work around their schedules, but shifts at Tyson Foods, the largest employer in town make it tricky. They run from 5am to 2pm and 3pm to midnight, and many parents work six days a week from Monday through Saturday.
“Family time is so limited. In many cases, one parent works the evening shift the other works the day shift, leaving precious little time for grocery shopping or family activities,” says Aguirre. High school students are often charged with caring for their younger siblings before and after school. “The last thing that students want to do is bother their parents with filling out forms or coming back to school for a meeting.”
Working in the meatpacking industry is steady but demanding work. And while life in Garden City is much better than where they many immigrant families came from, they don’t know how to navigate the system. “Our parents want the best for their children, and they want them to go to college and have a better life, but for most getting them there feels like an unattainable dream” says Aguirre, whose challenge is to help them understand that it’s not.
Thanks to a new funding partnership between The Kansas State College Advising Corps (KSCAC), Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) and the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR), even more students will have access to college advising. Plans are underway to expand into new parts of the state that and make it possible for advisors like Aguirre to serve students in more than 50 high schools across Kansas.
Since its inception KSCAC advisors have helped more than 15,000 Kansas high school seniors submit college applications and access more than $273 million in financial aid. Until last year, KSCAC was only available to students in Wyandotte and Johnson County, though. Thanks to the new funding partnership, advisors are now serving students in 18 high schools in Central and Southwest Kansas--including Garden City--in addition to those in the Kansas City area.
“By having advisors embedded in their schools, we can better address the specific issues of students and their communities,” says Meaghan Higgins, Executive Director, KSCAC. “Advisors work to solve students’ particular needs, such as how documentation status might affect a student’s ability to complete the FAFSA.”
College visits are a big component of the program. Last week Aguirre took a group of 33 students for an overnight stay at KSU for the Encuentro student leadership conference. For most, this was their first time on a college campus. “It was a whole new experience for them, and they were really intimidated.” she said.
But that all changed when they met, Jade Valdez Gomez, a student ambassador who led their campus tour, and a graduate of Garden City High School. “The students were so excited to meet a KSU student who looks like them and comes from their community,” she said. “It was a positive experience that really helped them see that they too can attain their American Dream of going to college.”
KS College Advising Corps: Working to promote college going culture in rural Kansas
Submitted by Laura Loyacono, KSCAC
To learn more about KSCAC go to https://linktr.ee/kscac.
Contact: Meaghan Higgins, Director email@example.com