A cluster of local educators and politicos -- among them Mayor Tom Leppert, Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, SMU President Gerald Turner and DISD trustee Edwin Flores -- gathered in the stately atrium of SMU's Owen Arts Center yesterday afternoon to kick off the inaugural Dallas Hispanic Youth Symposium. Two hundred North Texas Hispanic students are attending the four-day leadership program, which is being hosted by the non-profit Hispanic College Fund and SMU and which is designed to give high-school sophomores and juniors the "firsthand" college experience with the guidance of role models and mentors. Of more than 3,000 alumni in six cities, organizers say, 90 percent have attended college.
"I like to think of this as changing the paradigm in Dallas from minority students going to college being a fluke to being the norm," Flores said.
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Over the next few days, participating students will attend workshops on writing college essays and taking the SATs and ACTs; they'll also meet with college admissions officers and compete in speech, talent, essay and art competitions where $14,000 in scholarship funds are up for grabs.
Hinojosa spoke about growing up in Dallas and highlighted the importance of reaching out to students who don't see themselves as being worthy of attending college -- or who simply think that getting accepted and paying for it would be impossible.
"You don't realize the impact you can have on these young people -- that they can walk through this beautiful campus and think, 'I can be a part of this and my life can change,'" he told the audience.
George Cushman, the Hispanic College Fund's VP of programs, said that of the 3,000 alumni who went on to attend college, a number of them graduated from prestigious schools such as Stanford and MIT: "We're changing the trajectory they have and setting the bar higher."