Mayra Padilla: Metas Changes Lives

blogimage.jpgMetas has changed peoples’ lives. Metas, which means “Goals” in Spanish, is a program at Contra Costa College designed to inspire, educate, and build a college going community among Latino students. The program has been a roadway to college success for students in West Contra Costa County for over 27 years. 

The program was created in 1987 by a group of community members, college students and staff to address the high drop out rate of our local high school students and low college enrollment of high school graduates.

I became involved in Metas when I was 14 years-old and a student at Richmond High. A lot of the program was about exploring identity and developing academic skills to give us more access to higher education. There was a big mentorship component that helped me understand that, in large part, the reason that Latino students weren’t moving past high school wasn’t because we didn’t have the academic potential. It was that we were making different choices based on how we viewed ourselves and how we thought others viewed us. 

When I was in high school, it was not uncommon for people to tell Latino students that they weren’t going to end up in college. Or, we just wouldn’t be given information about careers above and beyond those that they thought people in Richmond would have — you could be a secretary or you could do work in business or real estate, but that was about it. There wasn’t anyone talking to us about professional careers. There wasn’t much discussion about applying to colleges, because most people thought we didn’t have the skills or couldn’t afford it.

That’s why Metas is so important. The program instilled in me the idea that I had the capacity to attend college and achieve greater things. Metas inspired me to go to college and helped me form a support network at Contra Costa College that carried me through my undergraduate and graduate education. Thanks to this support, I now have a Ph.D in neuroscience from UC Berkeley and have enjoyed a previous career as a research scientist.

To assure that our Metas students have similar levels of success, the program structure has shifted over the years. It became clear early on that to have the largest impact possible, we needed to include younger and younger students. We also acknowledged that the entire family needed to be involved. Today the program supports students from preschool to 12th grade. The Pollitos, our preschool to 3rd graders, participate in literacy programming. We also have an active parent group that focuses on developing our parents’ skills and resources to be advocates for their children. Our 4th to 12th graders participate in culturally relevant courses designed to help them achieve their personal, academic, and career goals. The heart of our program is the tutoring component. College students and young professionals volunteer to tutor our students.  It is through fostering these relationships, that we have been successful in building a college going culture. This intergenerational program design nurtures a sense of familia and promotes a philosophy of giving back.  

Now, our students do not feel a “pressure” to go on to college. Instead they see it as a natural next step in their educational journey and are excited to return as tutors or staff. Seeing other young Latino college students and young professionals achieving their professional dreams truly inspires our Metas students. In fact, many of our tutors and staff return to the program because they were themselves so positively influenced. For example, Jorge Cortes, who has been with the program since he was a 7th grader, is now our elementary school instructor. Jorge completed his bachelor’s degree in Physics from UC Berkeley, is in his last year of an Aerospace engineering Masters program at San Jose State, and is gearing up to apply for a Ph.D. program in Astrophysics. He, like myself and others in the program, has continued his participation in the program while completing his education. 

Metas is a model program that has achieved great success and longevity. Unfortunately, our state funding structure does not make it easy for community colleges or K-12 districts to institutionalize these types of programs without additional grant funding. Despite the current Education Reform rhetoric that asks for alignment and additional collaboration between community colleges and the K-12 system, there is little economic incentive for this type of work since the funding for both systems is still solely dependent on the number of hours students attend classes. 

To complicate matters, while this type of funding model yields enough resources to sustain basic infrastructure for institutions with large enrollment, smaller campuses like Contra Costa, which also has a smaller tax base and students with higher needs, do not receive enough resources to be able to sustain the necessary infrastructure to meet all of our students’ basic educational needs or support innovative high impact student success practices. 

This past year, community colleges have seen some relief on this front thanks to newly mandated legislation SB 1456 (Student Success and Support Program) and SB 860 (Equity), which made additional funds available to support and enhance efforts that increase student access and attainment of educational goals and that ensure equal educational opportunities regardless of race, gender, age, disability, or economic circumstances. 

More work needs to be done at the state level so that all funding is allocated through an equity lens, that means identifying the needs of students in our colleges. Precedence for this exists as K-12 districts have already moved to a local control funding model, which gives districts additional funds for high-needs students. Once community colleges like Contra Costa are able to fund our students’ basic needs, then it is essential to move the discussion to developing a sustainable funding source at the state level that will incentivize the alignment between K-12 and community colleges and the support of programs like Metas that give students early college experience, build smoother transitions to college, and create a strong college going culture for our most vulnerable students. 

By: Mayra Padilla, Academic and Student Services Manager at Contra Costa College

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