When Lenora Fuaga got called to the office at Highline High School in Burien, Wash., she was worried she was in trouble (she wasn’t). And when she found out the real reason, she thought it was a joke (it wasn’t).
In fact, Fuaga had been accepted into the Harvard Club of Seattle Crimson Achievement Program (CAP), a new initiative that provides mentorship and other resources to support a path to college for high-achieving, low-income high school students from western Washington (known as CAP scholars), starting in ninth grade.
“When I applied, I thought I wouldn’t get in,” said Fuaga, who is one of eight Highline ninth-graders in the initial cohort of CAP scholars. “So when they told me I got accepted, I was like, ‘Can you say that again?’ My dad was really proud because he’s always pushed me to have a better education than he did.”
As part of the program, the CAP scholars recently flew to Boston for a five-day spring break field trip to visit Harvard and MIT. Accompanied by two Highline staff chaperones, the students toured both campuses, learned about admissions and financial aid, sat in on classes, and met with first-generation Harvard and MIT students, as well as with their Harvard undergraduate mentors (known as CAP mentors). They also squeezed in excursions to the Freedom Trail, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Fenway Park, where they watched the Red Sox pull out a walk-off victory.
Reflecting on the group’s whirlwind visit, CAP scholar Saul Machuca summed it up in one word: adventurous.
Mauricio Majano, college and career access specialist at Highline Public Schools and one of the trip chaperones, was struck by the students’ energy when they were on campus, especially during the lectures they attended. “They were eager to go to the next lecture, even though it was optional,” he said.
Fuaga echoed this enthusiasm: “It was fun to see what an actual class would be like if you were to go to Harvard — how the professor works, how the students ask questions, how they take notes.”
Harvard Club of Seattle President Alexis Wheeler, J.D. ’09, said being able to experience classes and other elements of campus life firsthand gives the CAP scholars a “tactile connection” that they wouldn’t get just thinking about college in the abstract.
“I’m hoping they get a sense of the benefits and values of going to college, as well as a clearer understanding of how to get there,” she said. “That’s something I wish I had thought more about when I was young.”
Wheeler’s family fell on hard times when she was in high school in Bellevue, Wash., about 15 miles northeast of Highline. Inspired by her father, who was the youngest of seven and the first in his family to go to college, Wheeler saw academic achievement as a route to a life unconstrained by family circumstance. Her efforts earned her a full scholarship to the University of Washington, and, later, graduate degrees from Harvard Law School and the University of Westminster in London, but she acknowledges that she had it easier than some because she went to a well-resourced high school.