Original URL: http://www.tucsoncitizen.com/index.php?page=local&story_id=111903c1_town_hall_teen&PHPSESSID=653608f539c9589f3769110937df0976
Showing way to college
November 19, 2003
Town hall meeting at Sunnyside HIGH
Student getting by barriers tells how he does it
Samuel Olivarria will be the first to tell you he doesn't fit the stereotype of
a college-bound student.
His first language isn't English. He couldn't speak a word of it when he moved
here from Mexico.
His dad died when he was young.
He doesn't have tons of money in a bank somewhere that he can use for college
after graduating from Sunnyside High School.
But Olivarria also will be the first to tell you there's no reason he can't
attend college. And he'll also say the same is true for anyone else not in that
perfect college-bound category.
He plans to become a pediatrician, first attending Pima Community College and
later transferring to the University of Arizona.
Olivarria, 16, a junior, will be a speaker at the third annual education town
hall sponsored by the Tucson Citizen and Sunnyside Unified School District.
It will begin tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. at the high school, 1725 E. Bilby Road. A
community resources fair and free dinner will precede it at 5. The topic is "Why
Not College? Planning for Life After High School."
Olivarria was about 5 when his dad died and his mother moved the family from San
Luis, Son., to Tucson in 1992. He started school in English as a Second Language
classes in kindergarten and stayed there through third grade.
His mother, Adriana Molina, who also didn't know much English when they came to
Tucson, took adult education classes at Pima Community College and then
transferred to the University of Arizona, where she got her teaching degree. She
now is a Spanish teacher at Sunnyside High.
"Learning a language isn't easy for adults, but if you put your will into it, it
happens, little by little," Molina said.
She thinks about 75 percent of Sunnyside students are without role models to
show them how to go to college. "But if you want to do it, you can do it," she
said. "There are plenty of ways. You just need to get informed. To ask."
She said it wasn't easy when her family arrived here.
"I just kept knocking on doors until I found the right one" to get into ESL
classes at Pima, she said. At the time, she also was working at a swap meet and
had young children at home.
"I needed to continue my education to provide what my children needed," Molina
She managed, she said, adding there especially are opportunities for Hispanics,
for women, for low-income students. Some of her help came through student loans,
which she said she still is paying. "But that cost is nothing compared to what I
will be making" with a degree.
The irony of coming to a country where she didn't know the language is that she
had more opportunities to continue her education. "I always liked succeeding in
school, but there was no university in my town, so I couldn't go ... inside of
me I always wanted to go to college."
At her house, it's never "IF you want to go to college, it's WHERE you want to
go," Molina said. "In order to succeed in life, high school isn't enough." She
tells her children, "Sure, you'll have to work hard in college, but you'll feel
better about yourself if you're educated."
Olivarria said the most intimidating thing about his dream of going to college
isn't the money issue. "I grew up in poverty, and we never needed money to
succeed. That's not going to be a barrier. The most intimidating thing would be
letting my mom down."
Molina has always put his and his siblings' schoolwork on the refrigerator to
show "she was proud of it," he said.
His mom also showed him dedication: "She's always working on something."
Barriers don't seem to affect his family members, and that may be because of
their attitudes - something Olivarria thinks others can share.
He relates to students here from other countries and suggests they be as
outgoing as possible and get involved in sports and other activities to help
them fit in.
He takes his own advice. He plays baseball at Sunnyside and in another league;
he used to play basketball, and this year he joined the golf team. He is on the
Academic Decathlon team and in advanced communications, a class that produces a
show at school three days a week.
His secret to doing well in school is to not waste time. He tries to get as much
work done in class as possible. And, unlike most teenagers, he doesn't sleep
much. He says he gets about three hours of sleep or fewer a night.
When he gets discouraged, he listens to music or calls his best friend. And that
puts things in perspective, he said. He has a goal, and he intends to reach it.
IF YOU GO:
What: Third annual Tucson Citizen-Sunnyside Unified School District town hall
Topic: "Why Not College? Planning for Life After High School"
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. tomorrow. Community resource fair and free dinner from 5 to
Where: Sunnyside High School's auditorium, 1725 E. Bilby Road