Parent Ambassadors Empower Families to Make College Dreams a Reality

Agueda Palacios didn’t think her son, a freshman at Fremont High School, would go to college as it appeared to be unaffordable and, as such, out of reach. Then she began attending GEAR UP 4 LA workshops.

“GEAR UP opened my eyes,” said Palacios, who was the first person in her family to step foot on a college campus as part of a GU4LA field trip. “As parents, we need to prioritize the workshops and ask questions about how to support our children. I appreciate all of the information. I now know he can go to college.”

Palacios often shares her story with other parents, playing a pivotal role as a Parent Ambassador supporting GEAR UP’s efforts to empower families with information, foster relationships, and demystify the college-going process.

“Parents are essential partners to not only supporting their children’s college journey but sharing the information they learn with other parents,” GU4LA Family Engagement Specialist Frida Samayoa said.

To build parents’ capacity as advocates and grow their college knowledge, GEAR UP holds an annual Parent Ambassador Training program in collaboration with the Chicano-a Latino-a Educational Foundation (CLEF), a GU4LA partner that hosts family workshops on navigating the entire college preparation process.

“We work to build a strong group of parents who help engage other families in GEAR UP programs and services and let other parents know how to make their college dreams a reality,” Samayoa said. 

As part of the training, parents participate in several virtual training sessions – or an intense two-day residential program with a visit to UCLA when in person – where they learn what it takes to prepare for a higher education, how to share college preparatory information, and how to become a pre-college advisor to students and families within their school community.

Parents dive into the four systems of higher education, learn about UC/CSU admission requirements, and explore financial aid resources.

I started attending the workshops because I wanted to learn as much as I could to help my daughter go to college and prepare her for the future. This program isn’t offered at other schools, so we as parents who are privileged to have this valuable program need to take advantage of it for the benefit of our children.

Cristina Xicohtencat, whose daughter graduated in 2021 and attends UC Berkeley. She also has a freshman student at New World Open Academy.

Palacios and Xicohtencat are part of a select group of Parent Ambassadors who meet monthly to continue to learn about GEAR UP’s services, provide input, and volunteer for such opportunities as sharing their stories, serving as workshop facilitators, or participating in focus groups.

“They develop an awareness of GEAR UP and what college is about,” Samayoa said. “They create a bond and find confidence with other parents. They are a special group of leaders.”