Top 8 Reasons Why and How We Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

This was crossposted from the Smithsonian Learning Lab blog.

Every year across America communities gather together to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is observed September 15 to October 15. Starting in July, Smithsonian educators receive phone calls and emails inquiring about resources that will help showcase these communities and their contributions to American society.  So this year, we decided to answer those burning questions about why and how we should celebrate this month. And we decided to do it, in a top 8 listicle, because learning should be fun!

1) Why do we celebrate the Hispanic community in the United States?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 56.6 million Hispanics in the United States or 17.6 percent of the country’s population as of July 2015. Hispanics or Latinos have contributed to American life since the American Revolution, fighting in every war since then. Latinos today continue to advance communities across the country as small business owners, veterans, teachers, and public servants, among many other professions. Hispanic Heritage Month allows us to recognize their achievements and contributions to our national story.

2) What were the beginnings of Hispanic Heritage Month?

Originally, Hispanic Heritage Month was Hispanic Heritage Week, started in 1968 under President Johnson. In 1988, President Reagan enacted a public law to celebrate a 30-day Hispanic Heritage Month, starting on September 15, the independence day of five Central American countries. Within the month, other Latin American countries celebrate their independence as well.

3) Have you heard the common quote “We did not cross the border, the border crossed us”?

Because of the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars, two treaties were put in place (The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Treaty of Paris, respectively) that gave the United States territories in the Southwest and Puerto Rico, incorporating the peoples of this area into the United States. Learn more here:

4) Did you know that in America today, one in four children is Hispanic?

Sandra Cisneros writes about a young girl, Esperanza, in her classic coming-of- age story, The House on Mango Street. Used in classrooms across America, the novel is about growing up Latina in Chicago and the importance of family and traditions.

5) Did you know that food is a common language and brings us together?

Ezequiel Moreno started a Mexican bakery and restaurant out of his home in 1918, moving to La Plaza in the heart of Los Angeles in 1920. He named his bakery La Esperanza, meaning hope. Until the 1970s, their bread, coffee, Mexican dishes, and “American-style” lunches brought all kinds of people together, from Mexican immigrants, to downtown employees, to even Hollywood movie stars.

Bakeries today continue this tradition of community with El Bolillo Bakery in Houston, baking an estimated 4,400 pounds of flour into Mexican bread to help those in need after Hurricane Harvey.

6) Did you know that baseball played a role in Latino community building?

Latino community baseball leagues across the United States provided a place for people to build relationships, organize, and engage with younger community members. At the Major League level, Roberto Clemente, player for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was a Hispanic civil rights activist and a close collaborator with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Learn more here:

7) Did you know that Latin Jazz is a combination of African-American and Latin rhythms first mixed together in the 1940s?

Jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo first collaborated to create Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz. New York’s Palladium Ballroom became the hub of Latin jazz with greats such as Tito Puente, Machito and his Afro-Cubans, and Tito Rodriguez, among others. Learn more here:

8) Did you know that contrary to popular belief, Day of the Dead is not Halloween?

Celebrated on November 1 and 2, Day of the Dead remembers family and community members that have passed. Originally from Meso-America but now celebrated in Latino communities across the United States, the commemoration combines indigenous and Catholic rituals.

SLC Day of the Dead Bilingual Curriculum-Based Resources

Your friends at the Smithsonian/ Sus amigos en el Smithsonian

This was written by Emily Key, Education Programs Manager, and Adrián Aldaba, Associate to the Director and Programs, Smithsonian Latino Center.

Trust the Process and Be Proactive

Back in summer of 2011, I remember attending my first-year orientation of my undergraduate journey at the University of Arizona.  I specifically remember the session where I had the chance to declare a major before building my schedule for the fall semester. For some inexplicable reason, I was really drawn to the family studies and human development major but ended up declaring a major in nutrition. I made this decision because at the time I was convinced that I was going to become a pediatrician and needed a major that would put me on the track to be prepared for medical school.

Flash forward to the end of my first semester of college, and I realized that the nutrition major was not going to be for me. Just in that semester, I had taken two science labs and lectures, which were challenging. Looking through the course plan for the next three years, I saw that the science courses only continued to stack up! I stopped myself for moment and made an appointment with the academic adviser for family studies and human development major. I met with her and decided that this major fit my interests better.

While I enjoyed the classes in my new major, I now had to rethink my long-term plan given that my interests and long-term plans did not align. I debated the route I would take after college. I contemplated various graduate school plans such as working towards a master’s in social work, a law degree, or a master’s in marriage and family therapy. All I was sure of was that I wanted to give back to the Hispanic community and work with families.

My junior year rolled around and a random e-mail popped into my inbox about a paid summer experience. I applied to the program not knowing how much it would change my life and lead me right to where I needed to be. The program I had applied for was the McNair Scholars Program, which supports underrepresented students in the pursuit of a Ph.D.

Before the program, I didn’t know what a Ph.D. was or that I could make a career out of research. Through this program, I learned about conducting research, but most importantly, I learned how I could support the Hispanic community through research endeavors. The program supported me through the doctoral program application process and helped me build my confidence in my future! I applied to 10 doctoral programs, from which I was accepted to seven. I am thankful to the amazing McNair Scholars director who helped me through the complicated decision process for choosing a doctoral program. I choose to pursue my Ph.D. in human development and family studies at the Pennsylvania State University.

I always knew which area of research I wanted to pursue. Now, I am less than one year away from completing my Ph.D. in human development and family studies and now I’m looking to pursue a career in policy and research. My advice to those who may be just starting their higher education journey is to always trust yourself in your decisions because only you know yourself best. Also, it’s okay to not have your full plan figured out right away. At the same time, make sure you use the resources (professors, advisers, programs, friends, community center, etc.) around you to help you through the process. Sometimes, it is the experiences and times of confusion that lead us straight to the career we have always envisioned. Even as doctoral student, I changed my career plans. The world is full of opportunities, go get them, be proactive and trust yourself!

Lorena Aceves is a doctoral student at the Pennsylvania State University and a summer 2019 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Data Tools for College Professors and Students

This was crossposted from the National Center on Education Statistics blog

Ever wonder what parts of the country produce the most English majors? Want to know which school districts have the most guidance counselors? The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has all the tools you need to dig into these and lots of other data!

Whether you’re a student embarking on a research project or a college professor looking for a large data set to use for an assignment, NCES has you covered. Below, check out the tools you can use to conduct searches, download datasets, and generate your own statistical tables and analyses.

Conduct Publication Searches

Two search tools help researchers identify potential data sources for their study and explore prior research conducted with NCES data. The Publications & Products Search Tool can be used to search for NCES publications and data products. The Bibliography Search Tool, which is updated continually, allows users to search for individual citations from journal articles that have been published using data from most surveys conducted by NCES.

Key reference publications include the Digest of Education Statistics, which is a comprehensive library of statistical tabulations, and The Condition of Education, which highlights up-to-date trends in education through statistical indicators.

Learn with Instructional Modules

The Distance Learning Dataset Training System (DLDT) is an interactive online tool that allows users to learn about NCES data across the education spectrum. DLDT’s computer-based training introduces users to many NCES datasets, explains their designs, and offers technical considerations to facilitate successful analyses. Please see the NCES blog Learning to Use the Data: Online Dataset Training Modules for more details about the DLDT tool.

Download and Access Raw Data Files

Users have several options for conducting statistical analyses and producing data tables. Many NCES surveys release public-use raw data files that professors and students can download and analyze using statistical software packages like SAS, STATA, and SPSS. Some data files and syntax files can also be downloaded using NCES data tools:

  • Education Data Analysis Tool (EDAT) and the Online Codebook allow users to download several survey datasets in various statistical software formats. Users can subset a dataset by selecting a survey, a population, and variables relevant to their analysis.
  • Many data files can be accessed directly from the Surveys & Programs page by clicking on the specific survey and then clicking on the “Data Products” link on the survey website.

Generate Analyses and Tables

NCES provides several online analysis tools that do not require a statistical software package:

  • DataLab is a tool for making tables and regressions that features more than 30 federal education datasets. It includes three powerful analytic tools:
    • QuickStats—for creating simple tables and charts.
    • PowerStats—for creating complex tables and logistic and linear regressions.
    • TrendStats—for creating complex tables spanning multiple data collection years. This tool also contains the Tables Library, which houses more than 5,000 published analysis tables by topic, publication, and source.

  • National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Data Explorer can be used to generate tables, charts, and maps of detailed results from national and state assessments. Users can identify the subject area, grade level, and years of interest and then select variables from the student, teacher, and school questionnaires for analysis.
  • International Data Explorer (IDE) is an interactive tool with data from international assessments and surveys, such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The IDE can be used to explore student and adult performance on assessments, create a variety of data visualizations, and run statistical tests and regression analyses.
  • Elementary/Secondary Information System (ElSi) allows users to quickly view public and private school data and create custom tables and charts using data from the Common Core of Data (CCD) and Private School Universe Survey (PSS).
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Use the Data provides researcher-focused access to IPEDS data and tools that contain comprehensive data on postsecondary institutions. Users can view video tutorials or use data through one of the many functions within the portal, including the following:
    • Data Trends—Provides trends over time for high-interest topics, including enrollment, graduation rates, and financial aid.
    • Look Up an Institution—Allows for quick access to an institution’s comprehensive profile. Shows data similar to College Navigator but contains additional IPEDS metrics.
    • Statistical Tables—Equips power users to quickly get data and statistics for specific measures, such as average graduation rates by state.

Back to School by the Numbers: 2019–20 School Year

This was crossposted from the National Center for Education Statistics blog

Across the country, hallways and classrooms are full of activity as students return for the 2019–20 school year. Each year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compiles back-to-school facts and figures that give a snapshot of our schools and colleges for the coming year. You can see the full report on the NCES website, but here are a few “by-the-numbers” highlights. You can also click on the hyperlinks throughout the blog to see additional data on these topics.

The staff of NCES and of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) hopes our nation’s students, teachers, administrators, school staffs, and families have an outstanding school year!

56.6 million

The number of students expected to attend public and private elementary and secondary schools this year—slightly more than in the 2018–19­ school year (56.5 million).

Overall, 50.8 million students are expected to attend public schools this year. The racial and ethnic profile of public school students includes 23.7 million White students, 13.9 million Hispanic students, 7.7 million Black students, 2.7 million Asian students, 2.1 million students of Two or more races, 0.5 million American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 0.2 million Pacific Islander students.

About 5.8 million students are expected to attend private schools this year.


The projected per student expenditure in public elementary and secondary schools in 2019–20. Total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools are projected to be $680 billion for the 2019–20 school year.

3.7 million

The number of teachers in fall 2019. There will be 3.2 million teachers in public schools and 0.5 million teachers in private schools.

3.7 million

The number of students expected to graduate from high school this school year, including 3.3 million from public schools and nearly 0.4 million from private schools.

19.9 million

The number of students expected to attend American colleges and universities this fall—lower than the peak of 21.0 million in 2010. About 13.9 million students will attend four-year institutions and 6.0 million will attend two-year institutions.


The projected percentage of female postsecondary students in fall 2019, for a total of 11.3 million female students, compared with 8.6 million male students.

By Sidney Wilkinson-Flicker

Stay On Track This Summer: 4 Tips for Incoming College Freshman

This post was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

4 Ways to Stay Productive During Summer Break

A recent post, covers the concern of “summer melt,” where up to one-third of the students who graduate high school with plans to go to college never make it to a college campus. The post discussed how educators  can help keep someone on track—but there’s also plenty that a student can do to make sure their college plans don’t get derailed during a summer break.

Open every piece of snail mail you get from the college, and read all of it!  

Mail Time!

You’re probably used to getting lots of mail from all kinds of colleges, but once you’ve decided on where you want to enroll, anything and everything that school sends you needs to be read. For instance, you could be so excited after opening an admission letter that you completely miss important information on another page, such as scholarship opportunities offered by the school.

Read it all.

Check your email.  

Email may be almost as old school as snail mail, but it’s still how many colleges communicate with students—especially if they need something in a hurry.  The only way to find out what they need is to check your email at least three times a week in the summer. Also, make sure to check your junk or spam folder; some colleges send emails to thousands of students, and your email account may think it’s spam.  It isn’t.

Keep track of your to-dos with a checklist.  

Most colleges send you a checklist with everything you’ll need to do over the summer, and when you need to do it.  This checklist may come via snail mail, a link in an email, or as a text message.  Print it out and put it on your fridge at home; that way, your parents can help you keep track of what to do as well.  If your college doesn’t give a checklist, there are others out there, such as this one from College Board or from one of our posts.

Confused? Contact Your School. 

If there’s any point over the summer you’re not sure what you should be doing, contact your school. Even if you aren’t crazy about talking to someone on the phone, remember that your college gets a fresh batch of new students all the time and are used to answering all types of questions.

Once a college admits you, they will help you register, attend and graduate. There is almost nothing they haven’t been asked before, so don’t feel like you’re the only one asking a certain question. In fact, colleges have Student Services offices because so many students have so many questions. If you don’t know how to contact them, call the admissions office, and they’ll tell you how.

Talk to your family, friends and counselors who are there to help, even in the summer. There’s a ton of people at your college—your new home—who want to help you too, even though they haven’t met you. All you have to do is ask.

You can make this happen!

My Dedication

With about 33,000 residents, Dalton, Georgia’s claim to fame is carpet. The workforce for this industry is primarily supplied by recent immigrant Latino workers. As a result, almost 50% of the city is Hispanic. In my high school, nearly 70% identify as Hispanic. However, when considering college readiness, this wasn’t reflected. As a student, I noticed which of my peers were ultimately going—or not—to college. This firsthand exposure to educational inequities set off my lifelong passion to advance the college access, retention, and persistence of historically underrepresented students, and in turn, informed by decision to pursue a masters of higher education.

When I applied to be a Gates Millennium Scholar as a high school senior, a recurring theme in my essays was that I was seeking to go to college to help others go to college, particularly students of underserved backgrounds. In one my Gates essays, there was one particular paragraph that reaffirmed my decision to pursue graduate study and a career in higher education:

I would want to do my part in helping students, with special emphasis on minorities, realize that going to college is possible…I want to help get rid of the misconception amongst students, those minorities and rising first-generation college students, that they can’t go to college because of cost or because a higher education is not for them. I would work on policies to better the resource distribution to students in the area regarding graduating, college, and scholarships.

Early on, my interests were in higher education equity. As a first-generation college, low-income, child of immigrants, and Latina student, I faced many challenges and obstacles when navigating the college-going process. I visited college campuses on my own. I filled out the FAFSA form on my own. I paid the housing deposit on my own. When your parents have an elementary education, don’t speak English, and don’t understand the American educational system, you’re left to do all this alone. While I am resourceful and eventually successfully navigated this process, it was hard, confusing, and lonely.

However, the challenges faced by students like me don’t just end with matriculation. Remaining on a college campus and persisting through graduation is a different story. Despite my academic successes, I still battled with the stereotype threat and imposter syndrome that many students of color experience while at predominantly white institutions (PWI). Given that the faculty, staff, and students didn’t look like me, it was easy to feel like I didn’t belong or shouldn’t be at my school. The feelings of alienation, inadequacy, and inferiority quickly set in. The daily microaggressions of other students and college personnel slowly perpetuate an unwelcoming environment for students of diverse backgrounds. During these times, I knew that to make this easier for students like myself in the future, there needed to be students of underrepresented backgrounds staying, graduating, and then ultimately working on college campuses. Like many other areas of American society, more representation of various demographic backgrounds is needed in higher education at the institutional, state, and federal levels. Only then can higher education professionals and those creating policies make informed decisions and affect changes against systems and policies that were historically not made for students like me.

By growing as a scholar through my master’s program, I hope to leverage my academic and professional experiences as a stepping stone to a life-long career in education equity at the postsecondary level. Ultimately, after my masters, I seek to pursue a doctorate degree related to educational leadership and policy. In the long run, I see myself working in the public sector and influencing policies that affect systems for the advancement of college access and practices that promote an increase in people of color with degrees. At the end of the day, per one of my Gates Millennium Scholarship essays:

Whether by getting a political office…to affect policies or…on a board of education, all my goals, in everything I do, I will work to help students go to college. That is what I want to dedicate my life to.

Monica Maldonado is a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She was a spring 2019 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Being the Help in my Community

Growing up on the south side of Chicago wasn’t easy. I grew up watching as many of my community members fell into the wrong steps early on in life. Some students within my community weren’t the easiest to deal with, often written off as “bad kids.” I witnessed this from an early age and asked myself, “Why isn’t anyone helping them?”

When I started high school, I had to travel about 20 minutes south of where I lived because I wasn’t accepted into the high school of my choice. Luckily, the school I attended was equipped with some of the most dedicated, hard-working instructors I ever met. My instructors dedicated time before and after school to aid students who needed extra help. I was assured that if I needed to meet with my instructors, I would never be turned away. It was common for staff members to lead extra-curricular activities. They all knew their students and expressed genuine interest in their students’ success and discipline. They exemplified patience and empathy for students whose circumstances were far beyond what anyone could imagine. Their level of care for their students’ education transformed me as an individual and as a student.

These life-changing experiences motivated me to serve communities like mine. Being a first-generation college student from a low-income community can be terrifying. It’s not uncommon for us to feel alone at times because of the lack of support within our communities and even from our households. Academically, it can feel like we’re barely catching up to students who had the privilege of a head start. This has informed where I work and how I serve.

Throughout college I’ve been employed through City Colleges of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools. I’ve been able to work with students like me, oftentimes first-generation and low-income. One of the most positive experiences within education has been working with GEAR UP, a grant-based program that increases the academic performance and preparation of students in secondary and post-secondary education. Our mission is to help students all over Chicago succeed through high school and to aid them through the college process, along with mentoring them through their first year of college. As a team, we increase our community’s awareness of post-secondary education by aiding students through the financial aid process, researching scholarships opportunities, connecting students with organizations on campus, and hosting academic workshops. It has been heartwarming to support my city’s youth through their journey to college.

Because of the great support and experiences I had in high school, I want to educate, reform, and advocate for communities like mine–communities that are often overlooked and misunderstood. We are marginalized from other communities due to our crime rates and delinquency. This creates a cycle of hurt, violence, and indifference within our communities. Therefore, as a future educator, it is my goal to give a voice to communities who oftentimes don’t. I will take the time to get to know my students and foster parent involvement. In order to have a community flourish, students and families must feel supported. I have seen my own high school community thrive, and I will fight to do the same within the Chicago Public Schools system.

Lourdes Bustos is a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a 2018-2019 virtual intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Mentorship is the Greater Success

As the son of an immigrant, success was never handed to me. My mother once told me, “If you have the opportunity to be successful, take the chance.” My mother has not been afforded the same opportunities as myself. However, she has given me the greatest gifts of leadership, integrity, and ambition. My mother’s drive inspires me to never to give up and to achieve my goals. As a result, I am able to attend Santa Clara University fully funded to the completion of my Ph.D. through the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program. My humble beginnings have allowed me to value education as the only way someone like me can “make it.” However, my road to success didn’t happen alone.

Mentorship is the key to my success. My journey began through Verbum Dei High School’s Adopt-A-Student Program where donors and mentors reach out to the students and assist them financially but, most importantly, with mentorship. My mentor helped me gain confidence in public speaking, communications, and educational success. As a result, since my senior year of high school, I have mentored the incoming freshman class as they journey through their senior year.

In addition to my opportunity as a GMS, I also became a Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) Scholar. Through HSF, I attended the 2018 inaugural Youth Leadership Summit (YLS) as a summit counselor and mentor for low-income and first-generation high school seniors. The YLS educates high school students on scholarships, college application process, financial literacy, and much more. Many of my mentees clearly felt a sense of relief by having someone they can identify with and learning about all the resources available to them. Students who come from minority backgrounds need to see themselves reflected in professional settings. It is vital to highlight minority individuals who are accomplishing significant milestones. If minority students have mentors in their preferred career, they can then connect and find a similar path. As a low-income and first-generation student, I did not have the resources or contacts on my own to achieve success but having mentors and programs like HSF and GMS make a difference.

Mentorship gives me a new perspective on how to tackle certain obstacles and turn them into victories. Understanding the value of mentorship, I decided on attending a smaller institution. With smaller class sizes, I can more easily build relationships with professors who understand my potential and can connect me with people in my field. Through my experiences, I’ve learned that professors want to help students, but sometimes those of us from minority backgrounds may be less willing, if not scared, to ask for help. However, we should not be hesitant to ask questions. Asking for help makes our success story that much more impactful, and after all, success doesn’t happen alone.

Jonathan Herrera is a student at Santa Clara University and was a Fall 2018 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Your Burning Questions about Dual Enrollment, Answered.

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

girl in robotics class research electronic device

Imagine graduating from high school with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. You may think it sounds too good to be true, but dual enrollment programs can make this a reality for many high school students.

Because there are no universal federal guidelines that exist to determine how dual enrollment programs are structured, there tends to be a great deal of variation between programs. So what exactly is dual enrollment?

In short, dual enrollment allows students to access college classes and achieve college credit before they graduate high school.

How exactly does dual enrollment work?  Here are some answers to the top five most frequently asked questions:

What is the difference between dual enrollment and concurrent enrollment?

Dual enrollment and concurrent enrollment are both program options that allow students to earn college credit while they are still in high school. In some states the difference between dual and concurrent enrollment lies in where a course is taught and who teaches it. For example, in Wyoming, dual enrollment courses are taught by college instructors at the college, outreach center, or online, while concurrent enrollment courses are taught at the high school by a college-approved high school teacher.

What is the difference between AP courses and dual enrollment?

Dual enrollment courses allow students to get early access to college content in college courses. AP courses are different because they only result in college credit if a student earns a particular score on an AP exam at the end of the course and if the college that the student enrolls in accepts AP scores for course credit. This means students who complete a dual enrollment program have a college transcript at the end of their experience and can enroll directly in the college where they started or transfer these courses if they move to another college or university. AP courses on the other hand result in an AP score that can be submitted to a college and the college has their own matrix to decide if the score will amount to any college credit.

How does dual enrollment relate to career pathways?

Dual enrollment programs can serve as a fast track for students toward a career pathway that aligns with college courses and curriculum. For example, a student interested in a nursing program at a community college might complete all their nursing prerequisite courses in a dual enrollment program in high school. This way, after high school graduation they are ready to immediately enroll in the nursing curriculum at the community college.

How could Education Freedom Scholarships expand access to dual enrollment?

Education Freedom Scholarships could have significant positive impacts on dual enrollment programs and the students enrolled in these courses. Education Freedom Scholarships would allow students to leverage dual enrollment opportunities that may not be available in their area or district. Additionally, Education Freedom Scholarships can assist in covering allowable educational expenses such as transportation, tools, personal protective equipment, and more.

How does dual enrollment benefit students?

Research on dual enrollment suggests that students who enroll in these courses in high school are more academically successful when they transfer schools, have an easier transition from high school to college, are less likely to need remediation, and save both time and money in earning their degrees.

Visit to learn more about dual enrollment.

The Challenge of College

For me, I knew that every part of the K-12 educational journey was meant to prepare me to get accepted into a great college. The application process was challenging and competitive, yet I managed to be accepted to a great state school. However, what happened after I got in was a foreign concept to me, and I was unaware of what was to come. So much focus had been placed on getting into college, but no one ever told me how to succeed once there. For instance, my freshman classes averaged two hundred students and were filled with classmates who had graduated at the top of their class from prestigious high schools. The thought of raising my hand and asking for help while hundreds of pairs of eyes stared at me was horrifying. Therefore, I attempted to do it on my own and pretended that I knew what was happening in class.

The reality was that I could not keep up with the material, especially in my biological calculus course. The class was more advanced than what I had learned in high school, and I did not have strong studying and organizational habits. As hard as I tried, I scored poorly on my exams, and my confidence started to break down. I felt alone as I watched my classmates earn higher grades and answer questions without hesitation. I felt like I could not tell my parents because they had so much to worry about back home and were already having a hard time with me being away. If I dropped the class, then I would no longer be a full-time student. This meant that I would lose some of my financial aid, which I could not afford to do. The idea of failing this class continued to cross my mind, and it dawned on me what a failure I was. I couldn’t help but think of my family members, teachers and scholarship donors who had believed in me. I am not sure whether it was fear, pride or a bit of both that led me to remain silent and not ask for help.

I was home over winter break when I received my grade, and I couldn’t keep this away from my parents any longer. I had earned a D in biological calculus. I thought that they would be disappointed. I worried that they would feel as if all the sacrifices they had made for my future would go down the drain because of this mark on my transcript. However, my mom’s reaction could not have been more graceful and understanding. Instead, she wiped away my tears and asked about my struggles through the class.

I had allowed for my struggles to eat me up inside for so long. However, I came to realize that this one grade did not have to define me, my parents’ sacrifices, or the community I represent. I did not need to burden myself with thoughts of being a disappointment or another hopeless statistic. What would truly define this moment in my college career would be my next steps. That winter break I searched through all the resources on my school’s website, re-read my new student handbook, and found ways to improve my time management and study habits. I began the semester by meeting with my advisor and older college friends, making appointments at the academic success center, and attending the tutoring sessions. I learned the importance of shining light on my weaknesses and advocating for myself.

Each university has a wide variety of resources, whether you are struggling with academics, living situations, mental health, or finances. There are people who can offer guidance and support. However, no one can help you if you don’t admit that you need it and ask for it. Since then, my GPA has improved each semester, and I am not afraid to raise my hand in class when I am lost. I have encouraged younger students to self-advocate. I remind them that hardships will come, but they can decide how they respond. Most importantly, I have continued to rely on the unconditional love and support from my parents by sharing all parts of my college experience, even the most challenging ones.

Valentina Tovar is a graduate of Texas A&M University and a Summer 2018 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.