By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
Elizabet “Liz” Hernandez easily identifies with the 19 seniors in Bishop Dunne Catholic School’s second-year College Ready Academy.
Hernandez, the director of Alumni Relations at Bishop Dunne and a 2011 graduate of the school, co-moderates the CRA program, which serves students who are their families’ first generation with the expectation of graduating from college.
The academy helps students and their families navigate all aspects of the college application process, including financial aid, selecting a roommate and academic time-management.
CRA participation requires a 3.0 grade-point average or above.
“It hasn’t been that long since I was in their shoes,” said Hernandez, a Dallas native and first-generation college graduate. “My mom and I were going through the process not too long ago.”
Hernandez, 24, earned degrees in public policy and environmental science at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
“To come back to Bishop Dunne seemed like the natural course for me,” said Hernandez, whose many activities in high school included serving as the Falcon mascot. “The people who taught me became my peers. Bishop Dunne has always been so much a family.”
Hernandez and CRA participants said that the program—which is modeled after the University Leadership Network at the University of Texas at Austin—provides the closeness of a family because members share insights and tips as they work their way toward college acceptance.
“The academy becomes a little family, as participants find out what causes stress, anxiety and how much each one will be able to take out in loans,” Hernandez said. “We are equipping the parents to be a resource and a support system when the students go off to college. The emphasis is on college completion.”
The CRA meets twice a month in the early evening for dinner and a two-hour session.
Hernandez said that the program plans to expand to start students in the CRA as sophomores.
Bishop Dunne president Kate Dailey said that the CRA meets a great need at the school.
“In the recent years, anywhere between 30 and 40 percent of any graduating class at Bishop Dunne is the first in their family to graduate college,” Dailey said. “The College Ready Academy has done great work to set those students up for success in college, career, and life.”
Dailey said that Hernandez serves as an ideal role model for the students.
“Liz is a leader and mentor for our students in this program and a true example of how Bishop Dunne prepares and supports students to find success in life by virtue of service and social justice,” Dailey said.
All 19 of the seniors in the CRA have received acceptances to colleges.
“Being of the first generation of my family to go to college, my parents didn’t know the whole process,” said senior Adela Toscano Balderas, who will attend Texas Tech University in the fall.
“My mom was like, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do this.’ This program has helped so much. My family is getting the information, too.”
CRA members have developed a sense of camaraderie as they shared common challenges of the college application process.
“It’s really nice to be surrounded by people who are ‘in the same boat,’ so to speak,” said senior Dolores “Lola” Rodriguez, who will attend the University of Dallas in the fall. “I have learned to feel more confident about going to college.”