Escalera Program in Cypress Hills helping students climb ladder of success

Escalera means ladder in Spanish and Emilio Torres, a junior at Brooklyn Lab School, fully intends to use the fledgling Escalera Program, a hands-on and intensive college and career readiness initiative, to take the next steps in his budding musical career. “I am definitely hoping to get a lot out of the program,” said Emilio, 17.  “I love music and I hope I can find a way to make a living at it. Maybe I can come up with a plan to make that happen while I’m in the program. Maybe I can meet producers or do an internship in music. That would be awesome.”

Cypress Hills student Emilio Torres is part of the new Escalera Program.

Cypress Hills student Emilio Torres is part of the new Escalera Program.

Emilio is one of 40 students from Cypress Hills who is taking part in Escalera, the program developed by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) to increase educational achievement and career advancement for Latino and other minority students. CHLDC, an affiliate of NCLR, received a grant last year to launch the program this spring at the Franklin K. Lane High School campus.

For College Access Counselor Irma Encarnacion, the Escalera program is a perfect fit for CHLDC, augmenting many of the college and career readiness services the Student Success Center already provides Latino and other students. “College readiness and career readiness are the Holy Grail of the Escalera Program,” said Irma, who serves as the staff coordinator of the program. “That’s a very neat thing in that it is not only a college readiness program, it is also a career readiness program. So the students get to participate in a summer internship, and we essentially walk them through that process of what it’s like to prepare for and have a job.”

Irma Encarnacion: "College readiness and career readiness are the Holy Grail of the Escalera Program."

Irma Encarnacion: “College readiness and career readiness are the Holy Grail of the Escalera Program.”

The internship is just part of the Escalera experience.  All the students are in the second semester of their junior year and will be part of the program until graduation day 2015. In late March, they began taking a weekly class in which they’ll learn practical career skills (writing a resume, how to dress for an interview) to the social and emotional (self worth and self-discovery).  And every week until they graduate, they’llmeet with their CHLDC counselors for at least 30 minutes.

The idea is that by graduation day, the students will be primed for college and career. They’ll have resumes, know how to handle a job or internship interview, gain work experience via the internship, and have a strong sense of their abilities to affect their futures. And they will have visited colleges and explored careers.

“What you have in Escalera is deeper than a checklist of completing an essay, completing an application, and so on,” Irma said. “It’s about knowing your place in society, knowing your value, what you bring to the table as a Latina. Escalera is about making sure these students maximize their potential.”

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