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ESL students get a university preview

4/19/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Lora Gallegos-Haynes remembers a timid youngster in one of her summer English as a second language classes in Hays in the early 2000s.

On Tuesday, that same student was anything but shy.

Sergio Dolfer, a senior at Hays High School, is headed to college. He had a big smile on his face while he told a group of peers he will be attending Fort Hays State University next year.

"I like how affordable it is, and it's close to home," said Dolfer, who is the youngest of two siblings of Mexican parents and will be the first member of his family to attend college.

Staying in Hays offers Dolfer another opportunity.

"This way, I can help out my mom, too," said Dolfer, whose dad and older brother live in his native Mexico.

Dolfer was one of approximately 25 students -- mostly Hispanic -- from one of Hays High School's ESL classes who got the chance to visit a college campus Tuesday.

Porfirio Ramirez -- associate director for Christian Challenge, a student ministry on the Fort Hays campus -- also substitute teaches in the Hays school district and is a long-term sub in the ESL classroom at Hays High this spring.

Knowing a lot of his students have little knowledge of where to even begin checking out a college education, he wanted to give them a chance to visit Fort Hays.

Fewer than half the members of the class held up their hands when asked if they ever had been on the FHSU campus -- or any college campus, for that matter.

"It's in (Hispanic) culture that it's important to work and support your family," said Gallegos-Haynes, who now teaches Spanish at Hays High. "So a lot of times they don't go past high school."

Ramirez, a college graduate himself with a degree in social work and a minor in Spanish, would like to change that way of thinking and show students they have a chance for even better jobs -- and supporting their families -- with a college education.

"My goal is for these students to experience a little of campus life, especially since it's right in their backyard," Ramirez said. "If I can get someone to step on campus as a freshman, we're two years ahead of where we are with a kid as a junior."

So Ramirez contacted Hector Villanueva, the multicultural admissions recruitment counselor at FHSU, who offered a tour of campus.

Villanueva, who has helped Dolfer during the application process, split the Hays High class into two smaller groups and gave them a snippet of a college student's day on campus.

After a quick walk through Memorial Union, the students ventured to Forsyth Library and massive Tomanek Hall, where their eyes widened at the sight of the gigantic Witten Pendulum and the 37-foot meat-eating dinosaur replica.

Up next were the new Agnew Hall apartments before heading to a popular spot for teenagers -- a cafeteria.

The HHS students were impressed with the newly renovated cafeteria area in McMindes Hall that includes numerous buffet bars and open, restaurant-style seating with tables and booths. The smell of freshly cooked food wafted through the air as the students marveled at the various choices.

"This place is awesome," Dolfer said as some of his classmates nodded their heads in agreement.

Villanueva told the students about the many opportunities to receive financial aid and students just need to fill out the proper paperwork. He also pointed out several areas of study that have helped put Fort Hays on the national map, including graphic arts, nursing, education and business.

The last one mentioned had Dolfer smiling. He plans to major in business next year.