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Together While We’re Apart: A Q&A with Advise TX Advisers

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The pros and cons of attending college can weigh heavily on many high school seniors, especially for those who live in vulnerable communities. Now the difficult decisions about when, where and whether to attend college have become more fraught during the global pandemic.  We caught up with several Advise TX advisers (UT Austin branch) to learn more about how they are helping their students during this difficult time by providing them with all the resources they need to make their college dreams a reality.

Read on to learn more about their good work in schools across Texas—and how they are using virtual tools to meet students where they are.

Have you seen a shift in students’ attitudes about going to college during this global pandemic? And how do you help them through this time of uncertainty? 

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Many of my students have changed their minds over the course of a few weeks about leaving the Valley for school. The uncertainty of whether classes will resume on campus and the financial stress has led my students to this decision. Many of them have opted to start working during this time to support their families who have lost jobs. I do my best to offer support to them—whether it be helping them find an alternative at UTRGV [UT Rio Grande Valley], STC [South Texas College] or TSTC [Texas State Technical College] or just being a shoulder to lean on. Many of my interactions with students has been mental health focused. I find that they just need someone to talk to about their decisions to stay/leave, and some just need reassurance that they aren’t abandoning their families if they do choose to leave. Regardless, they know Ms. Villarreal will be there to help them transition into whatever is next for them. —Rayna Villarreal, Juarez-Lincoln High School, Mission, TX

What advice do you have for students who are facing doubts and anxiety during this difficult time?

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Do not make decisions while you are filled with doubt and anxiety. Look further into what you want to study or the career that you want to determine the next best steps FOR YOU. Do not be afraid to ask questions. You can find answers that could help you with the doubt and anxiety you are facing. You are not alone. There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. That does not mean you cannot continue to plan for your future. If the doubt is coming from others, remind yourself that you can do whatever you set your mind to. This is your life so work towards your own goals. If the doubt is coming from within, take a moment and realize you are only just beginning. You haven’t officially started anything so you do not know what you will be able to do in the future. Only time will tell, so do not let the doubt keep you from trying to accomplish something you have never done before.

As for anxiety, this is created from your inner fears and worry. No one can tell you everything will work out perfectly. Many things may be out of control in your life right now, so it is better to look at this planning stage as something that you are able to control. By making plans for what you can do in the future and taking those steps, you are taking back control. What we are facing now in the world is not permanent, so take some time for yourself, and by doing this you may be able to alleviate some of the anxiety you are facing. The future is unknown, so do not hold on too tightly to what is unknown. Just worry about what you can control which is completing college enrollment steps, completing job applications, completing housing applications or taking time for yourself to figure out what you want. —Alexis Maxie, KIPP Collegiate Austin High School

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My advice to current high school students dealing with doubt and anxiety right now is to keep working toward their post-secondary goals; it will be worth it. Trust that colleges and universities are doing all they can to deliver a great college experience while keeping everyone safe. Students should continue to reach out to their advisers, teachers and counselors for help when needed.
—Flor De la Mora, Del Valle High School

How have students responded to the virtual Go Center? What are some benefits of this new tool?

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After launching our Virtual Go Center I received comments like, “WOW, this is so cool!” and, “I really like the virtual Go Center!” Students have been able to navigate through the website and find very useful resources and information that will help them throughout the college application process. For my students specifically, I created “How To” tutorials on navigating accounts, rescheduling ACT tests  and sending college transcripts to universities. The Virtual Go Center has not only helped our students find resources but has also sparked interest into completing all of their pending requirements. When you click on Vanguard Academy’s drive, you’ll find different checklists for our local universities and colleges and another for students going out of the RGV. After seeing this, students have been reaching out more to me for help because they want to complete the checklist. The Virtual Go Center has also been very helpful to our underclassmen, especially our juniors. If they go in to the different folders they can see what it is that they will need in the future when they are applying to college. My juniors have been reaching out asking questions about the required test they need to take, ACT/SAT prep and want to learn more about what they will be working on as seniors. They have specific questions about flyers and handouts that they find in our website.  I believe that calling our website a “Virtual Go Center” has also influenced many of our students to check it out. Students love being in the Go Center, it’s the space the schools give them to work on all their college-going needs, and now that they can’t be there physically it has been hard for them. Our Virtual Go Center is one more way that we are letting them know that we are still here for them, and everything is going to be okay. —Dariela Flores, Vanguard Mozart Secondary, Alamo, TX; and Vanguard Rembrandt Secondary, Pharr, TX


About Advise TX: Housed within the Longhorn Center for School Partnerships, the UT Austin chapter of Advise TX is part of the national College Advising Corps, an ever growing consortium of more than 25 partner institutions around the country that have committed to recruit and train talented, enthusiastic recent college graduates to serve as college advisers within designated high schools in 16 states.