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For Spring ISD EMERGE Fellows, an Early Start to a Busy Week on Boston College Tour

Every dedicated student knows that a journey of discovery can be as close as their school’s library, with the steps of the journey winding through the pages of a good book. Other journeys take place in the school’s science lab, where a better understanding of the discoveries of others helps students see the world around them with new eyes. Still other discoveries can happen during practice out on the athletic field, or in rehearsals for a new play with the theater department.

Sometimes the journey of discovery is an actual journey – away from familiar surroundings for an opportunity to discover something new. But every journey of discovery – large or small – requires a student’s willingness to learn and grow, and to step outside their comfort zone.

For four rising Dekaney seniors, their own journey this week – as part of the EMERGE Summer College Tour – took them from Houston to Boston, where they landed on Sunday, along with 75 other rising seniors from schools in Houston ISD and Spring Branch ISD. Together they’ll be learning about several area schools – including Brandeis University, Wellesley College, Wheaton College, Boston University, Harvard University and Tufts University. They’ll also take part in an ongoing series of reflections on what they want out of a college education and how to find the best college fit for them.

Leonard Diaz, Mya Frazier, Eric Garcia and Yesenia Ruelas Reynaga are all new members of the EMERGE Fellowship. The program is focused on strengthening college readiness in high-performing students from underserved backgrounds. In signing on to become EMERGE Fellows, each Dekaney student made a commitment to explore the possibility of applying at some of the country’s most selective colleges and universities.

For the college tour, students arrived at Houston ISD headquarters between 2 and 3 a.m. Sunday morning to catch buses, followed by a 6:30 a.m. flight from Hobby Airport. It was an early start to a long day, and for many of the students on the Boston trip, like Reynaga, it was their first time flying on an airplane.

“I was nervous, but it was cool,” Reynaga said. “I slept most of the time.” As for the takeoff and landing? “It was like a roller coaster.”

Reflecting further on the early morning flight, she recalled how other students on the plane helped each other through the experience. One nearby student, who had flown several times, explained what to expect during the nearly four-hour flight.

“I was also next to someone else who’d never flown, so that was nice,” Reynaga said. “I didn’t feel like I was all alone.”

According to EMERGE’s Chavonté Wright, that support the students offer each other is a big part of what makes the program work.

Wright, a 2012 Dekaney graduate who went on to be the first from her school to attend Rice University, now works to support members of the EMERGE Fellowship who have graduated high school and are in college. During college, Wright developed a passion for addressing opportunity gaps in education, and said that being part of an EMERGE college tour with students from Dekaney had a personal meaning as part of her own journey.

“My high school counselor encouraged me to apply at Rice,” Wright said, “and I’ve always wanted to get to pass it along. Because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to not know what you don’t know.”

A former YES Prep seventh-grade teacher in Houston’s Third Ward, Wright is currently working to establish a mentoring program that will connect older EMERGE students – now in college – with the younger high school students.

“It can be long hours,” Wright said, “but I’m reminded why I do it when I get to be with students. Like today, seeing their faces as they looked out the windows on the plane. They’re worth it. They deserve it.”

After an intense day of travel followed by EMERGE student group activities, information sessions and a campus tour at Brandeis University where the group is staying, Diaz reflected on the start of the college tour and all that had happened in the 17 hours since he had left his home and his family that morning.

“It’s been a long day,” Diaz said. “The farthest I’d ever been before was to Chicago, with the band from school.” One of his favorite things so far, he said, was “the sense of community at Brandeis,” including seeing how both current students and alumni spoke about their experience at the school.

Now, farther away from home than he’s ever been before, Diaz said he’s looking forward to seeing what the week has to offer, and especially to the group’s upcoming visit to Harvard University.

Sherese Woolard, EMERGE’s program manager for Spring ISD, traveled to Boston as one of the group’s leaders. In discussing the importance of the summer college tours, she emphasized the need for students to be open to what the week might bring and the lessons it might teach them.

“One of the underlying themes for this tour is that EMERGE is a community that’s going to support you on this journey,” Woolard said. “Culture building is a big part of this, having them walk away with a sense of the EMERGE community and feeling connected to other students in their district or other districts who want something similar.”

One of the trip’s chaperones, Spring High School paraprofessional, Tunisia Carter, will be watching the students’ journeys of discovery this week with a particular interest. Carter’s daughter, Clarke, is a rising junior at Dekaney, and is also among the newly inducted Spring ISD EMERGE Fellows. Her EMERGE college tour will come next summer.

Sitting at a bench on the grassy North Quad of Brandeis University, watching as a group of nearby Houston EMERGE students played an impromptu, improvisational game of catch involving both a football and a Frisbee, Carter took a deep breath.

“Being here, breathing this air, even the air is different,” Carter said. “Being here makes a difference.”

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