Camp for Latino high schoolers in Kentucky provides wide variety of experiences, students say

Students engaged in a team exercise during the Latino Leadership and College Experience Camp at Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Cooper Campus.
Students engaged in a team exercise during the Latino Leadership and College Experience Camp at Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Cooper Campus. Lexington Herald-Leader

The gathering of students in a classroom at Bluegrass Community and Technical College on Monday looked like any other college class, except this class began with the teacher asking whether the students wanted to hear the lesson in Spanish or English.

The weeklong Latino Leadership and College Experience Camp at BCTC is helping Latino high school students prepare for college and get a chance to experience college courses.

The program began in 2006 as a local day camp and has progressed to what it is today, a weeklong camp where students from around the state may experience college life by living in dorms at the University of Kentucky.

Erin Howard, Latino outreach director at BCTC, said several classes were offered, including sociology, writing, literacy, math, business and art, among others.

"It's a wide variety; something to interest everyone," she said.

Gaby Baca, also a Latino outreach coordinator at BCTC, said that the classes were being taught by professors from multiple Kentucky universities and that they were encouraged to be interactive with the students.

"We tell them ... to teach a course they're passionate about," Baca said.

The students get to select what courses they want to take, as they would in college.

Howard said the program helps to break down what students need to do to go to college and achieve their goals.

"To give them an idea of what the road ahead really looks like," she said.

Howard said students at the camp "have big goals, they're very ambitious."

The students also learn more about their culture at the camp, in classes such as The Story of Mexican (Im)migration, History of Mexico and Spanish Literature and Art.

"It's my passion to help Latino students," Howard said.

The students also take part in physical activities and team-building exercises. Baca said Friday that the group, which consists of 38 first-time and 15 returning campers, would head to Eastern Kentucky University for workshops, a ropes course and a tour. The students will stay on campus, and graduation is Saturday.

Ivonne Gonzalez, 17, is in her second year at the camp. Ivonne, who lives in Shelbyville, originally is from Mexico. She said the camp gives her knowledge and skills, particularly in leadership.

Ivonne also enjoys that students "get to experience this week with people that are similar to" them and struggle with similar issues, such as financial problems or being undocumented.

"It opens many doors to many people," Ivonne said.

Ivonne said the stories she hears from other people at the camp "really inspire me to not give up."

Edgar Lopez, 21, is originally from Mexico; his family lives in Mount Sterling now. This is his fifth year at the camp — he started while in high school and now attends the University of Kentucky and returned to help run the camp.

Lopez, a senior majoring in international studies and Spanish, said it's kind of like a family and gives him a sense of belonging. he said the camp "gave me a sense of identity; educated me on issues that Latinos face, such as stereotypes."

He returned to the camp as a worker because he wanted to give back.

"When I help others, I see how it affects their lives," he said.

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