The Schuler Program equips bright, motivated youth with the support they need to gain access to and succeed at highly selective colleges and beyond. Writing from thirteen schools located in the greater Chicago area in Lake and Cook Counties of Illinois, scholars reflect on their academic experiences, cultural exposures, college applications processes, and more.
From Scholar to Scholar Coach: What It’s Like on the Other Side
by Cynthia Perez, Waukegan High School ’09, Stanford
AmeriCorps Scholar Coach at Maine East High School,
Cynthia tutors a Schuler Scholar at Maine East High School.
As a Latina from a low-income, single-parent, immigrant
household, the odds of attending a private four-year university were not in my
favor. However, my mother, who was not given the opportunity to graduate high
school, instilled in me the motivation and the need to focus on my education as
it was my one ticket to success in this country. “I don’t care what career you
go into,” she would say, “as long as you go into one.”
From the age of ten, my dream was to become a
pediatrician, but I wasn’t sure how I would get there. Prior to high school, I
knew I was going to college; however, there was always this silent
acknowledgement between my mother and I that I would attend the community
college near our home, as it was all we could afford. My entire perspective on
higher education changed the moment I was accepted into the Schuler Scholar
Program my sophomore year of high school. Their promise to us was that with our
hard work and their guidance, we would have the opportunity to attend a private
four-year university with a minimal financial burden on our families.
Throughout high school, Schuler supported me
intellectually, emotionally, and financially to ensure that I had the most
enriching experience at Waukegan to best prepare me for college. The various
college visits across the country, taking a college-level psychology course at
Colorado College, my international experience in Ghana—these opportunities
would have never occurred had it not been for this organization. Most
importantly, Schuler pushed me to take steps into the unknown, to take risks,
to put myself out there. I distinctly remember sitting in my college
counselor’s office, reviewing the first draft of the college list I had prepared.
Rob, my Schuler College Counselor at the time, shook his head and asked, “These
are all good choices, but why not
Stanford?” Shocked, I told him that I did not think would get into a school as
selective as Stanford, to which he replied, “Cynthia. Look at me. You can get
in. Put it at the top of your list, right now.” And on the evening of December
12, 2008 my dream of being accepted to Stanford University came true, thanks to
the continual support of Schuler and my mother.
The beauty of this program is that it recognizes that
support solely during high school is insufficient. The phone calls to simply
check in on me, the alumni events during breaks, and the comfort of knowing I
had a team back home rooting for my success was definitely a contributing factor
to my smooth transition into college and success throughout. My goal of
pursuing a medical career was well-known with Schuler, and thanks to their
guidance, I had the opportunity to tour and speak with the admissions director
of one of my top medical school choices the summer prior to my application
cycle. Today, I can proudly state that I have been accepted to seven medical
schools throughout the country and am still waiting to hear back from more.
During my gap year prior to medical school, I wanted to
dedicate my time to something meaningful and close to my heart. Thus, after
conversing with numerous senior staff members in Schuler, I decided to apply to
be a Schuler Scholar Coach through AmeriCorps. As a Coach, I have the
opportunity to give back to the program that invested so much time and energy
solely for my success.
This year, I am working at Maine East High School as a
Math and Reading Coach, and because of my pre-medical experiences in college, I
also tutor Scholars in Chemistry, Biology, and Physics. Being a staff member
has given me strong insight on all of the behind-the-scenes work that would
otherwise be unknown to me as a Scholar. Running around school to catch a Scholar
in between periods, constant lesson planning, and what seems like hundreds of
meetings per week—I can honestly say that Scholar Coaches do not have it easy.
This position entails long hours, great flexibility, and an immense amount of
patience. After reading these descriptions, one would be inclined to picture a
rather burned-out and grumpy individual; however, Schuler has done an amazing
job at selecting the friendliest people who are fully dedicated to their year
of service. I am incredibly grateful to be working with a staff that puts forth
110% each day with a smile on their faces—people who I can call my friends.
Although the Schuler Scholar Program has changed immensely
since my high school days, the program’s mission, dedication, and success still
remains as strong as ever. I am halfway through the school year, and can
already predict that my departure from Maine East in July will be one of the
most difficult goodbyes I will have to make.
To learn more about the AmeriCorps Scholar Coach and AmeriCorps Math Scholar Coach positions, visit the Service Opportunities page on our website.