UnidosNow plans college prep fair on Saturday

Special to the HeraldApril 8, 2014 

MANATEE -- With a growing percentage of Latino students in both Manatee and Sarasota counties, the University of South Florida will once again work to benefit thousands of high school students in the area by hosting the UnidosNow College Prep Fair.

The third annual college fair will be held on the campus of USF Sarasota-Manatee from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. It's bringing together local business and community resources to help ensure a positive future for soon-to-be college students.

UnidosNow's mission is to get Latino students prepared and focused on their educations while strengthening the Latino family through community support.

"The whole point is to get the idea of college in their heads," said Cathaleen Kaiyoorawongs, director of education initiatives for UnidosNow. "This is our biggest event of the year." Kaiyoorawongs

Kaiyoorawongs has been a part of the college prep fair, which is geared toward low-income and first-generation college applicants, since its inception in 2011.

"The first year we had 300 (attendees), we had about 200 our second year. This year we are expecting around 300,"

Kaiyoorawangs said.

As the Latino population continues to rise in the two counties, UnidosNow encourages these students to use the resources around them and take an interest in their futures.

The all-day event will include a number of sessions and workshops as well as 12 different colleges providing information to interested students. Though a direct correlation between the college fair and student college enrollment has yet to be recorded, Kaiyoorawongs has seen an impact on the students as a result of fair attendance.

"We don't really have any way to track which students who come to our fair go on to enroll (in college), but we do try to keep up with students through the local resources. We have questionnaires that they fill out and many, almost all, of the students who attend do report that they are getting lots of information that they didn't know about before," said Kaiyoorawongs.

Along with general information about local and state colleges, the fair also provides students with a list of resources and real data regarding their college futures.

"We help potential college students compile lists that have higher graduation rates so that they can consider attending them. We don't have resources, as a small non-profit, to hold every hand, but we can get them to these higher graduation rate schools with the resources that low-income students will need," Kaiyoorawongs said. "We try to leverage the resources that already exist for them."

Kaiyoorawongs noted that with graduation rates at 94 and 96 percent in the local community, students are more likely to get the help they need rather than dropping out from a school with only a 20 percent graduation rate with little to no resources.

"These schools do exist. The investment of all the community resources is an amazing thing," Kaiyoorawongs said. "These businesses and organizations are providing access to all Manatee and Sarasota students."

The Latino student population in Manatee County is about 28 percent; Sarasota County Latino students make up 21 percent of the student population.

The UnidosNow College Prep Fair is open and free to students in grades ninth through 12th. Kaiyoorawongs encourages students in middle school who have high grade-point averages to attend to get a jump start on their educational futures.

Activities will include: financial aid form help, SAT and ACT preparation, college selection, comprehensive workshops, the opportunity to speak with representatives and counselors from local colleges and vocational schools and much more.

"This event is for everybody," Kaiyoorawongs said. "I don't want students who aren't Latino thinking they can't come, they absolutely can come. It isn't limited to just Latino students. We encourage everyone to come and register online."

For information or to register for the college fair visit unidosnow.us or call 877-598-4466.

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