Program helps low-income students get to and through college

Longhui Gao, 18, right, works with counselor, left, with Collegiate Directions, Incorporated, a program that helps tenth grade students in Montgomery County Public Schools get to and through college. Monday, April 3, 2017 (ABC7 photo)

Eighteen-year-old Longhui Gao is about to do something his parents never did. "I came from an isolated Chinese village up in the mountains and almost everyone there did not receive a good education including my parents. My mom never went to school and my dad only went to fourth grade," Gao shared with ABC7 News.

In the fall, he will attend Lehigh University in Pennsylvania with the assistance of a program called Collegiate Directions, Incorporated (CDI).

Ana Hilton, Director of Programs, explained, "Collegiate Directions is a program that tries to bridge the education gap for low income, first generation-to-college students."

CDI reaches out to tenth graders at Montgomery County Public Schools. Students are paired with a counselor who provides support in areas like test preparation, financial aid and eventually transitioning to a college campus.

Erica Fuentes is a senior at the University of Maryland College. "I'm the first one in my family to go to college," she said.

The 22-year-old Government Politics major has been involved in Collegiate Directions since high school and most appreciates her counselor.

"I'm able to call her whenever I have a problem or whenever I just need somebody to talk to about college. She's there for me and I know that CDI is there for me to provide for me the resources and the advice that I need," she continued.

"Currently we have a 97% graduation rate for six years for our students. Most of them are doing it in four," Hinton stated.

Fuentes looks forward to graduation day in May.

"Because of CDI I've been able to go to college and now almost graduate," she said.

CDI is also helping students get to and through college with a new approach called the School Support Program.

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