The Park City Education Foundation's Bright Futures Program gives first-generation college-bound students the support and mentoring to attend post-secondary school and graduate.
The kids who participate in Bright Futures are required to commit in 10th grade. It's not for everyone because the meetings, the family engagement and the overall expectations are rigorous.
The opportunity to attend college is one thing, but just 11% of first-generation college students graduate, according to the PCEF. The Bright Futures mentors help students choose the right school, manage financial aid applications, and meet deadlines. They get help with resume writing and interviewing, and as they progress through the high school years, they learn about the social and emotional skills needed to succeed in college.
Park City High School senior Sicali Garcia said the program isn't just centered on the student, because going to college takes a supportive family.
"It's also really awesome because they involve our parents a lot,” said Garcia, who has an older sister in college. “They take them to a college trip. They have meetings for themselves a couple of times every other month, so they get them involved too, which is awesome, so like, educate our parents. So, it's just a really beautiful bond."
Garcia said she wants to study education and, post-graduation, to teach English in South Korea, where she has applied to a study abroad program for this summer. She said the support she has received from Bright Futures mentors has changed her mentality and her family's view of what is possible.
"It was this really long application, and it was just really complicated wording and everything,” she said. “And Nikki helped me with that and with the recommendations and everything. And right now, I'm at the finalist stage, and I'll find out this month if I go to South Korea. You can dream as far as you want to, and they'll support you, anything—those dreams of mine, like me going to China my junior year. I worked really hard for it, and it seemed like a really, really unrealistic dream to do all these things. But mentors there, they push you, and they're like, you can do it. you can do anything you set your mind to."
Rodolfo Cornejo is a sophomore in his first year with Bright Futures. He’s an only child and would be the first in his family to attend postsecondary education.
He has many interests and hasn't decided his path in college yet.
"I'm hoping to expand my horizon and do important work,” he said. “For example, during the summer, I am planning to internship at a few wildlife conservation centers in Park City. So, I'm kind of exploring a lot of options right now, and wildlife conservation is really something that would be interesting to me."
Cornejo, who is taking chemistry this year, is interested in science and in the culinary arts. He said he is beginning to consider different college majors.
"I have begun getting quite a few emails from colleges from Arizona, Utah, California even from all the way in Montana--recently from Colorado and a bunch of colleges,” he said. “And I am currently exploring the colleges, seeing like what majors there are and what programs there are."
Visit the Park City Education Foundation's website to learn more about the Bright Futures program.