ASHLAND, Ore. -- Southern Oregon University is hosting almost two hundred Latino middle and high school students. It's part of an academic program called Academia Latina.
Academia Latina is broken down into two different sections. Seventh to ninth graders are in an academic program. Tenth to twelfth graders enroll in a leadership program. They get the full college experience for about a week and live in dorms on campus.
All students have to send in an application with a resume and a letter of recommendation to be accepted into the program. Camp organizers say this entire process helps encourage young students to pursue higher education.
"It's very, very important that these students get the opportunity to see what college is like and that there are students who have faced many barriers who were able to be successful," said Jonathan Chavez Baez, the co-director of Academia Latina. "This is what this camp allows them to see. That the possibilities are there. There's people like them who have gone through struggles, but they were able to be successful and go off to college."
This program really does inspire Latino youth to attend college, according to camp organizers. About 90 percent of the senior camp counselors attended Academia Latina as students when they were young.
Seven years ago, Randy Mena was a student in the Academia Latina program. Now, he's a rising senior at Southern Oregon University majoring in business administration and Spanish. This is his second year working as a senior counselor for the program.
The first year Mena came to Academia Latina, he wasn't considering going to college. Mena said the program helped change his mentality.
"When I came as a student, I was really inspired by the counselors who came here," Mena said. "I was just really trying to go the extra step and attend college, higher education because of the counselors and the program itself."
About a quarter of the students at Southern Oregon University identify as students of color. SOU Minority Outreach coordinators said that this percentage has increased over the past couple of years because of programs such as Academia Latina.
"If you're really trying to get experience at what the real world is like, you need to have a diverse pool of students," Baez said. "Their perspectives or experiences, their challenges and the way each person lives life differently can only enrich everybody within a classroom setting."
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