By Stephanie Serrano
Two Latina high school seniors strive to become the first in their family to attend a university. As Stephanie Serrano reports for Next Generation Radio the two young women come from a Reno community and zip code (89431) where most residents have low paying jobs.
Listen to Stephanie Serrano’s radio feature about the two students.
Early Bird Gets The Worm
It’s 6:30 a.m. and not only are the alarm clocks going off in the Mora household but so are the roosters.
Alondra Mora, a petite, curly-haired brunette, 18-year-old high school senior, begins her day.
Multi-tasking is Mora’s special trait. She starts by making breakfast for herself and her family. Waiting for the tortillas to be ready to flip, Mora steps over to the sink to begin washing last night’s dishes.
She makes breakfast with eggs from her family’s backyard chickens and also takes advantage of leftovers to make her lunch for school.
“There’s six of us and then my grandparents also stay with us,” said Mora. “Food runs out super fast.”
Money runs tight. Mora’s parents are both employed in a warehouse and are constantly working overtime to provide everyday necessities like food.
Most days, Mora is responsible for driving her two younger brothers, her younger sister, her cousin and her best friend to school.
Mora remembers exactly how she met Yaquelin Ramirez when the two were in middle school.
“I didn’t have any friends,” said Ramirez. “I was at the end of the lunch line and she happens to walk by and I was like, she is in my P.E. class. I remember asking her, ‘hey aren’t you in my P.E. class?’ She was like, ‘yeah’ and I was like ‘oh, do you want to have lunch with me?’ And she was like, ‘oh yeah’. After that, our friendship just took off. We got really close.”
Their friendship is genuine. Since middle school, they have learned that their interests and goals are the same. They go to each other for the support they don’t have elsewhere.
Whether it be help on homework or applying for financial aid, they know that they have each other to lean on if they need help.
After four years and a lot of hard work, both girls will be graduating from Procter R. Hug High School in June. They are also both planning to attend the University of Nevada Reno in the fall and be the first in their family to attend a four-year university.
City-Data.com grades public high schools, with 100 being the best. Hug High is classified as a four.
Mora has been selected to talk at an upcoming event to defend Hug High School’s reputation.
“When I’ve gone to scholarship dinners, they always say, ‘oh where did you go to school?’ They say ‘oh, Hug High School.’ They say ‘oh don’t you mean thug high school?’” said Mora. “I think that showcases that people always associate us as being a ghetto school, when in reality it’s not.”
More than half the students at Hug are Hispanic. Many come from middle to lower-income families where college tuition is not always affordable.
Jason Aytes has been helping Mora and Ramirez with information on scholarships.
“Working here it takes the right kind of person, but you don’t always understand the value you’re getting from that,” said Aytes, the social studies department and scholarship coordinator at Hug High. “It is completely inspirational to see these young people transition themselves and change lives, their future, their family, all of it. It’s good to see success stories.”
After countless hours of reworking essays, Ramirez received seven scholarships so far, just barely beating Mora who has six scholarships.
“It was pretty hard,” said Ramirez. “I had four AP classes and to find time, I would prioritize my homework. I would be like, ‘I have to finish my homework first, then I can go apply for scholarships’, because I didn’t want to fail my classes. Sometimes I would stay up really late doing scholarships, because I know it needs to get done.”
Mora also found it challenging, filling out scholarships while also doing her homework. Mora lives in a small, three-bedroom house with her six siblings, parents and grandparents.
“One time, I really had to read and I had a project due the next day, so I literally locked myself in the bathroom, and I was working in there because I was like ‘this is as good as it’s going to get,’” said Mora. “It’s really hard. I don’t have that quiet space where I won’t be bugged.”
Listen to Ramirez and Mora explain their ways to succeed.
Friend to Friend Support
Ramirez has also had her challenges. In eighth grade, she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, a condition where the thyroid produces too much hormones. This causes an irregular heartbeat, weight loss and for Ramirez, loss of concentration.
“In middle school, I was 80 pounds and I drastically went up to 130,” said Ramirez. “It was just really difficult to cope with, because I couldn’t really concentrate. I used to be able to read something once and get it, after this I had to reread something multiple times.”
When she was a sophomore, she had to miss two weeks of school so she could undergo treatment for her overactive thyroid.
Mora was the one friend who helped her get back on track.
“When I came back to school, she helped me a lot,” said Ramirez. “She made sure all my teachers gave her all my work that I missed. It was really nice. She helped me finish and everything they had done in class, she would help me go over it.”
Now two years later, both girls are graduating in the top five of their class. They’ve found it fun to have a sister-like competition between each other. Ramirez is second in her graduating class. Mora is fifth.