BRYTE Prepares Refugee Students for Life Beyond High School

November 2, 2013
Hearing Different Perspectives: A panel on preparedness with Lillian Abreu, John Marra-Youte, Renata Martin, and Jacques Nshimirimana.

On Saturday, November 2nd, seventeen refugee high school students, their BRYTE (Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment) tutors, and specialists in college and job applications gathered at the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. Tutees attended from Dr. Jorge Alvarez, Central, Cooley, E-Cubed, Hope, Juanita Sanchez, and Mount Pleasant High Schools  to learn about college applications, employment through a program called Year-Up, and navigating the world of financial aid.  

The idea of Preparedness Day was conceived at the end of April 2013 by several members of the BRYTE Coordinating Team, who addressed the need for high school students to not only  be connected to college resources and demystify the application process, but also receive support, encouragement, and inspiration during the stress of high school.  

Solanchi Fernandez, from the College Planning Center of Rhode Island, told students that college is a possibility for everyone, and money should never stop them from applying. John Marra-Youte, from Year-Up, surprised students with the fact that Year-Up actually pays students to work and study for a year.  

Round Table Conversation: Students, tutors, and community members interact over lunch.Round Table Conversation: Students, tutors, and community members interact over lunch.BRYTE Coordinator and Tutor Abbie Galloway believes a program like Year-Up would be perfect for her tutee, a high school sophomore, who expressed interest in gaining technical skills for a career in business alongside her education.

Students listened to a panel featuring Lilliam Abreu from CCRI admissions, Mr. Marra-Youte from Year-Up, Renata Martin from Brown College Access Scholars, and Jacques Nshimirimana — a former BRYTE tutee and current student at Connecticut College. Big questions were raised: Why should you pursue higher education? How might employment be more realistic for students? What are the differences between community college and a four-year university?  

The discussion was colored with personal experiences and inspiration.  Martin described her journey from Brazil to the United States as an undocumented student with little support or knowledge in applying to higher education. She inspired students by emphasizing: “Whether it means going to community college, applying to scholarships, or even taking time off to work and save money to pay for tuition, if you have a goal in mind you can achieve it.”

Nshimirimana, a former BRYTE tutee, also emphasized Martin’s words as he encouraged students to focus on finding the support they need, despite the challenges, to pursue higher education. He energized students by telling them about his own recent transition from high school to college.

From there, students could choose to attend structured, interactive seminars hosted by Brown University Access Scholars, College Advising Corps, CareerLAB, and the Writing Center on SAT/ACT preparation, Personal Essay writing, Resumes and mock interviews, high school extracurriculars and leadership opportunities, and a discussion on “why college is cool.”

Many BRYTE students, like Central High School Junior Destin Bibemi, have been exposed to the college process before either through their high school counselors or BRYTE Summer Camp. However, Bibemi says that it was helpful to have a one-on-one discussion with a writing specialist about picking topics for personal statements. Bibemi and his tutor, Charlotte Biren, brainstormed potential ideas after Biren showed Bibemi her own personal statements that she used to apply to college.

After the three rotations, students and their tutors had lunch with community members, including Alan Flam and Kate Trimble, from the Swearer Center; Natasha Go, from Brown University Admissions Office; and Francesca Zetar, from College Visions. Community members had an informal dialogue with students and their tutors about what they learned from the workshops and encouraged them to reflect on how that could shape their goals, short term and long term.

High school freshman, Mechack Niyomukia, felt that Preparedness Day did not overwhelm him with information, but instead give him confidence in his future. Niyomukia says, “It was just a great day - I loved it a lot! At the Preparedness Day, students (from Brown University and Connecticut College) told me what I should do and practice now so that college won’t be as overwhelming. As a freshman I have 3 years to practice what will make me a good college student, which is enough time. I didn't think that I would do well in college before Preparedness Day happened and the day made me think differently about how I will do in the future.”

Danielle Torres, BRYTE Coordinator and tutor, saw the impact of the day after talking to a student. She said, “I had the chance to talk to a BRYTE tutee, who has been in the United States for less than six months, about how she attended Preparedness Day all on her own, even though her own tutor couldn't make it, without knowing anyone. She told me it was the first time she had heard about 'college.' Witnessing this student's increased inspiration and commitment to her future education is only one example of how Preparedness day provided students with the incredibly important space to commit more to their futures - whatever path that may be.”

As Biren reflected, “Even though Preparedness Day was only one day, we, as BRYTE and the greater community, are dedicated to helping tutees and tutors prepare for the future every day.”