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East Hall High School tailors college resource fair for Latino students, families
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Parents and students gather Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, inside the East Hall High cafeteria to meet with university representatives during the school's first Latino college fair. - photo by Scott Rogers

Exploring prospective majors and deciding between campuses is a significant part of the student experience — one that can be quite daunting for families who deal with language barriers.

“There has always been a time where my parents didn’t understand something that the school wanted them to do — even in elementary (school), my parents received papers from the school asking for important help or information — but due to a language barrier, they never understood,” said East Hall High School senior Daniella Carrillo.

Carrillo’s experience isn’t unique. According to Stan Lewis, Hall County Schools director of community relations and athletics, 47% of the system’s students are Hispanic; of that number, roughly one-fifth are English Language Learners, according to Superintendent Will Schofield.

On Tuesday, Oct. 26, East Hall High School hosted its first-ever Latino College Night to provide information on college admissions and campus life to Spanish-speaking and bilingual families — an event East Hall counselor McKenzie Cagle has wanted to see since arriving to the school two years ago. 

Cagle said she wanted to make financial aid and scholarship program information available to Hispanic families. 

“Whether they’re a migrant working family or first generation or undocumented or anything, to make it more accessible was kind of the goal ultimately,” Cagle said.

Working together with counselor Kim Brown and parent liaison Diego Rico, they were able to put together a college fair night for all Hall high school students and their parents based on the needs they saw.

“The questions are different for immigrant parents,” said Rico. “Sometimes they’re like, ‘I don’t have Social Security’ and those types of questions. So that’s why we bring these college representatives — that way they can answer those questions.”

The college admissions process can also look different for undocumented students; based on their status, they are not able to receive federal financial aid and loans and many must rely on private scholarships to help pay for their education. 

Around the school’s cafeteria, 12 college and university representatives — each of whom were bilingual or employing the help of a translator — set up tables to provide information about majors, financial aid, campus life and scholarship opportunities specifically for Hispanic students. These included the University of North Georgia, Lanier Technical College, Brenau University, Georgia State University, Valdosta State University, Dalton State College, Kennesaw State University, Piedmont College, Mercer University, Reinhardt University and Georgia Gwinnett College.

“So many colleges offer opportunities for students of all backgrounds, specifically for Hispanic and Latino students, that aren’t well broadcasted, so they don’t know those opportunities are available,” said Reinhardt admissions counselor Mallory Newsome. “I think it’s definitely really important to have that representation and to have those scholarships being marketed to those students.”

In addition to basic information on college admission, details on specific scholarships were also presented — like Valdosta’s College Assistance Migrant Program, which financially assists migrant students or those who hold agriculture-related jobs, or those whose parents fall into either of those categories.

While primarily tailored to help juniors and seniors prepare for college, the night was open to all high school students who wanted to get a head start on evaluating their options and preparing for the future. 

Genesis Lopez, a sophomore at East Hall, was in attendance for that reason.

“I feel like most of the time when (parents) want to learn about what their kids are going through in school and stuff like that, usually it’s limited because they only know Spanish,” she said. “It’s good that it’s for both languages because then we’re both educated in it.”

Knowing the event was organized with Hispanic families in mind was enough for Cristina Gonzales and her niece Yareli Salas, a sophomore at Johnson High School.

“They took us into account because a lot of us don’t understand the language and they took the time to make this event for both languages,” Gonzales said.

“If we can break down the language barrier for parents upfront it makes them, again, more comfortable to ask these questions and get the answers that they want,” Cagle added.

Students, parents and counselors alike indicated that they hope to see more events like these in Hall schools.

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A parent and student speak with a University of North Georgia representative Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, at East Hall High as the school holds its first Latino college fair event. - photo by Scott Rogers