Blog

Writing the Way at 826LA: College Personal Statement Field Trips with high school educator Ms. Lona

Ms. Lonée Lona is an educator from Humanitas Academy of Art & Technology at Torres High School who has been bringing her high school seniors to 826LA’s College Personal Statement Field Trips for four years. During these Field Trips, 826LA volunteers work with students to learn their stories and help shape their experiences into thoughtful and reflective college essays that reveal their characters, accomplishments, and determination. Ms. Lona’s unique role as both an educator and a college counselor to her students makes 826LA’s Personal Statement Field Trips an ideal space for her students to be validated and valued as they go through the tricky college application process.

Ms. Lona’s introduction to 826LA’s College Personal Statement Field Trips

I teach English to 9th and 12th grade students. But I also do the college advising at Humanitas, a small 420 person pilot school in East LA. When 826LA started offering Personal Statement Field Trips, it was great, because my students need to hear from somebody besides me.

There’s a high level of trust here at 826LA, and I think that the Personal Statement Field Trip has always been a success. I really do think when 826LA organizes a Field Trip and sits my students down at tables for three hours, it’s helpful. Because they come to me for a lot of things, but I tell them, “I don’t want to be the only person you talk to. I shouldn’t be the only person you talk to.”

When we do these Personal Statement Field Trips, we continue this writing workshop model back at school. Two to four times a week from now until November 30th, I train  adult volunteers, and I tell them: “You sit, and you listen. You take notes for the kids, you give suggestions, you hand it back, you tell them to go write right away.” And it’s just this rolling process. 

“There’s a high level of trust here at 826LA.”

 

Ms. Lona’s Personal Statement Field Trip strategy

Last year in spring 2016, I brought a class into an 826LA Personal Statement Field Trip, and they were psyched when they left here. It was like a seed to be reactivated when I saw them again after the summer. I said, “Remember, way back two 

and a half months ago and we went to this place?” And they’re like, “Oh…yeah!”

This year I switched to doing the Personal Statement Field Trip in the fall. I’m hoping this is their sense of urgency right now.  I do think it matters when students start this process early. The kids who start working on college personal statements earlier write better and feel better submitting their applications.

I’d say for the kids that start early, the typical number of drafts they go through, for the most confident ones, are three to four, sometimes five or six. And it might not be a full draft every time, but it’s a feedback loop—sometimes they’re writing, sometimes their essays are being read. I think the students understand this process is necessary to make something better.

826LA’s Personal Statement Field Trips turn anxiety into unity among students applying to colleges

“They leave 826LA psyched! Pretty much every person in that room is a first generation college student. These kids should get a trip. They should get to see that not everybody is doing this…that they’re doing something that’s a significant endeavor for them.”

Aside from being very anxiety-filled despite their light-hearted appearance, my students are very hard working kids. They are really apprehensive about this whole college application process. As much as so many of them want to go to college, the big thing is: “I don’t know if I should apply. I don’t know if I’ll get in.”

It’s not a clear fear of failure, because they do it anyway. It’s more a fear of rejection. When we did an activity that asked what they feared most about the college application process, the number one word that came up was “rejection.” There’s a lot of apprehension…but as people, they’re just super hopeful. When they talk about the future in general, they’re excited and they’re hopeful. They have a lot of ideas.

When my students come here, it’s good for them. They leave 826LA psyched! Pretty much every person in that room is a first generation college student. 

These kids should get a trip. They should get to see that not everybody is doing this…that they’re doing something that’s a significant endeavor for them.

They leave 826LA a little more focused, for sure. It feels very real. I think particularly what Echo Park Field Trips Coordinator Kenny said today was significant in that, yes, this can all be very stressful. It’s like it’s all happening suddenly. But when my students leave, they’re talking about college essays more, because they’ve been here together.

The 826LA Personal Statement Field Trip creates a group that’s now gone through this thing together. And they have more people to talk about college applications with. Even though not everyone in the class is friends, they now see each other as, “Oh we’re the people who are doing this part of the college application.”

Ms. Lona hopes 826LA Personal Statement Field Trips leave her students feeling validated, supported, and valued

During an 826LA Personal Statement Field Trip, I hope students get validation from the strangers at the table—and even the people who they know sitting at the table—that their ideas are worthwhile and valid. That their life experience is enough. That they’re enough. That these are things to move forward with.

“During an 826LA Personal Statement Field Trip, I hope students get validation from the strangers at the table—and even the people who they know sitting at the table—that their ideas are worthwhile and valid. That their life experience is enough. That they’re enough.”

I would like them to leave here with some momentum and a desire to finish this and see this college application through. Their hesitation range is from “I’m never going to get into college,” to “I’m not sure I have time,” to “I think I can just do this on my own.”

I tell them, “Autonomy is great, but that’s not actually how writing works even in the real world. Any good writing teacher will tell you that the idea of the lone writer out there in the universe not getting any feedback doesn’t happen. That’s a fiction.”

“So, you could do it by yourself. But if you already think you can do it by yourself, it’s going to be so much better if you let somebody else push you to the next level. Like, “take the bump.” Why wouldn’t you take the bump if it’s free? And you don’t have to go to school today. And I’m going to buy you pizza. 

Just say “yes.” I want my students to start saying “yes” more. “Yes, I can do this. Yes.”

Ms. Lona’s advice to her students: “Learn how to rest, not how to quit.” 

The best piece of advice that I’ve given to them is a great quote I read: “Learn how to rest, not to quit.” I thought that was super valuable advice for my students, because the impulse is to just be like, “Nevermind, I’m not doing this. I quit.” And I tell them, “Resting is fine. Learn how to rest, not to quit. Follow through with things. Every day that you do something, you’re moving it forward.”

“If we have to use sports metaphors, “Can we move the ball forward a little bit? It doesn’t have to be a touchdown every day. Just one little bit of movement every day, and then put it to rest. But then come back. Just keep coming back the next day. At least until November 30th!

Celebrating her students’ not-so-surprising college success stories

“I want my students to start saying “yes” more. ‘Yes, I can do this. Yes.'”

 Every year, my students are always surprised. I rarely have a student who’s like, “Oh yeah, I knew I was going to get into that school.” One girl got into every UC she applied to.

 

It makes me feel so great. Even if they decide not to go, I want my students to know that they can get in. 

The Cal State and UC system is not just about “getting in” if you’re qualified, it’s about answering emails and turning in paperwork. If you drop a ball, you’re out. Kids who don’t drop the ball get in. I rarely have a kid who is qualified, who answers the emails, who does all the things, who doesn’t get in somewhere. It’s amazing!

 

 

 

 


During Personal Statement Field Trips, 826LA volunteers spend time with students to learn their stories and shape their experiences into college essays that are honest, personal, and reveal students’ true characters and determination. 826LA believes crafting personal statements for college applications is one of the most powerful examples of writing as a tool for empowerment and equal access. 826LA’s Personal Statement Field Trips emphasize reflective and thoughtful writing while making sure students are answering all the questions in the prompts for University of California schools, private colleges, and California State EOP short answer questions.

To volunteer for a Personal Statement Field Trip or support college personal statement writing through 826LA’s In-Schools program, please sign up on the 826LA projects calendar.

To volunteer during 826LA’s 8th Annual Personal Statement Weekend in November, please sign up here.

Find out more information about all 826LA Field Trips here.

This entry was posted in General, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.