WEST ORANGE, NJ - On Saturday, March 12, the West Orange Board of Education, Township of West Orange, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Essex County College, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the Hispanic College Fund, and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund sponsored a bilingual seminar aimed at Hispanic families entitled, College Enrollment, Financial Support, and How to Obtain Professional Experience at the West Orange Public Library.
By 2050, 34% of U.S. Latinos will be U.S.-born with at least one immigrant parent, according to Pew Research Center as reported in Smithsonian magazine’s July/August 2010 issue.
“I do 20 information sessions at NJIT per year on Saturdays,” said Mr. Carlomagno Ontaneda, Assistant Director, Recruitment at NJIT, “but I got no one from West Orange.” As a result, he decided to participate in the information session in West Orange. Ontaneda said of this seminar, “if I get even one student to go to college, I have already achieved.”
“Mr. Ontaneda wanted to speak to ESL students at West Orange High School”, said Ana Marti, Supervisor, ESL & World Languages Gr.6-12, of the West Orange Public Schools. According to Marti, Hispanic students comprise 23% of the district, and there are 300 ESL students in the district. In February, Mr. Ontaneda spoke to the parents of all students as part of the high school’s Spanish Night. “He makes himself available,” she said. Marti spoke to Saturday’s audience in Spanish. “There are means to go to university; the help is there but you have to look for it and ask questions. The most powerful words are, ‘I need help.’ An obstacle is an inability to pay, and without papers you pay the highest prices.”
“Students should be going to college, but are not pushed to AP courses, and are intimidated by college forms. Parents are not familiar with the process, it is daunting to them, and there is confusion.” said Laura L. Lab, Vice President of the Board of Education of the West Orange Public Schools. Lab said, “Immigration is not a concern of the school district. To the district, legality is immaterial but breeds fear.”
“Today’s goal is to talk to parents about the college process to promote parental involvement and what kids can expect as they move through the West Orange school system; to present a glimpse of the college experience and beyond,” said Councilman Victor Cirilo. According to Councilman Cirilo, the Hispanic population in West Orange has grown since the 2000 census.
According to Lesley Chung, Guidance Counselor at West Orange High School who was also at the gathering, the school provides regular workshops for parents. “We can help you in senior year to be on track with college applications.”
“I am here to talk to parents and kids about college and its benefits and to share my experiences,” said Victor Reynaga, who was born in Peru and graduated from West Orange High School. He is a Junior at NJIT interested in Civil Engineering. He said his interest began as a small child in Peru where his mother worked at the airport, and he would go there and see the workers in their suits and helmets. He said, “I want to make my family proud, and someday show my kids a building I’ve worked on.”