Naiset Perez and Sheily Bartolon-Perez, first cousins who live in Easton, have a great deal in common. Both are students from Easton High School (EHS) and both chose to participate in Mid-Shore Scholars (MSS), becoming first-generation college students in their Guatemalan families.
Although Sheily paved the way to college for her cousin Naiset, it was Naiset who introduced the two to Mid-Shore Scholars (MSS), a local nonprofit dedicated to helping high school students on the Mid-Shore fulfill their life goals.
Naiset recalls, “I heard about the program in my AP Spanish class while in 11th grade. I had just begun my college search and the process was daunting.”
Sheily, who was in the 12th grade at the time, was deep into her college applications when Naiset introduced her to the program. She adds, “I was starting with my college applications the fall of my senior year and was overwhelmed with the process. I was unsure that I could commit to the program because at the time I had a job on Saturdays to build up my college funds, the same day that some of the MSS workshops were held.”
“I decided, however, that I wanted to make my education a priority and joined.”
For Sheily, MSS changed the trajectory of her life. She had initially thought she would attend Chesapeake College and transfer to a four-year college for nursing after getting her associate degree. Instead, she was introduced to Towson University and Washington College on college visits organized by MSS.
She ended up selecting Washington College which gave her a full scholarship through its Scholar’s Program and she has just completed her first semester there. Although the pandemic changed her college experience to a virtual one this year, she looks forward to next fall when she will be on campus for the first time. She currently has a 4.0 average after her first semester at Washington College.
While at EHS, Sheily’s cousin, Naiset, began taking dual enrollment courses at Chesapeake College the summer of her sophomore year. She will finish her associate degree before she graduates from high school this June.
When Naiset reached 12th grade, she was exploring colleges closer to home, including Georgetown University. It was a friend in her AP Spanish class who had recently gotten into Dartmouth that made her realize schools like Dartmouth could be attainable. Dartmouth also had a Latin American Studies Department, which interested her. She applied to Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore, through the QuestBridge Scholarship Program, a program that helps academically-strong, low-income, first-generation college students. A few weeks ago, Naiset got notice that she had received a four-year QuestBridge Scholarship to attend Dartmouth College, her first choice.
“I have not been to Dartmouth yet, but I liked it because it’s a smaller environment and its small town is very green and reminds me a little bit of Easton. It feels like it’s a good fit,” she states.
“One of Easton’s young people has earned a full ride to an Ivy League education and has done so against significant odds. We are extremely proud of Naiset, of our staff, and of the village of support around her that has made her dream of attending Dartmouth a reality,” comments Vivian Landau, Executive Director of Mid-Shore Scholars, which together with Talbot Mentors, helped to shape Naiset’s life choices.
“This illustrates the impact that the Mid-Shore Scholars program and the Talbot Mentors organization is having on young people and their families in our community. We aspire to remove the barriers to success for the children we serve.”
In her college essay, Naiset wrote, “My parents worked tirelessly from sunrise to sunset, all the while pushing me to excel in academics and to realize the empowering ability that comes with being bilingual . . . I’ve translated, but I strive to do more, to connect. Realizing my dream of becoming an immigration attorney will be my opportunity to go beyond English words on paper and the translated documents. I’ll be able to understand, to feel the shared lived experiences, to be that guiding hand my family never had.”
Both Naiset and Sheily recall their mothers crying when learning of their daughters’ accomplishments –happy about their decisions, proud of their hard work to get there, and relieved about the financial assistance that would be there to help pay for their educations. Landau recalled Sheily’s mother hugging her when she heard the news and Naiset’s father calling her on the phone to tell her how proud he was of his daughter.
“In addition to the students, we work with the students’ families, explaining the obligations of the program and the students’ contract with MSS. We want the students to feel that they have a second supportive family in us. We all work together toward the student’s success,” comments Landau.
Sheily’s younger sister who is in middle school wants to join MSS when she gets to high school, realizing the help that her sister received in the program through Mid-Shore Scholars Prep Advisor Samantha Martinez, who helped both through the application process.
“I have seen how hard my parents work and the long days they have. College was a way for me to be different from my parents. I wanted a good job and college offers me the opportunity to get there,” comments Sheily.
Beyond the academic assistance offered by the program, MSS offers high school students such life skills as budgeting and networking – topics that might not be covered in the academic setting.
“I do not doubt that both of these young women will do great things – they have a zest to learn and do well,” adds Landau.
“Mid-Shore Scholars has been a great support system for us and a wonderful network of people, expanding our circle of contacts,” reflects Naiset.
Both Sheily and Naiset are paying it forward what they have gotten from MSS by being tutors two days a week in a pilot program (Lit Squad) through Talbot Mentors which helps elementary school students with their reading literacy skills. MSS is also starting a Math Squad in March 2021.
In 2021, Mid-Shore Scholars will fully integrate with Talbot Mentors, helping to mentor and serve students in elementary school through college and/or higher education. There are currently 25 students enrolled in the Mid-Shore Scholars Program. The nine seniors in the program have applied to such colleges as Towson University, Virginia Wesleyan University, Salisbury University, Liberty University, University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Washington College, Hampton University, and Johns Hopkins, among others.
“Our program doesn’t stop when they get into college. We want them to graduate from college. It is especially important for first-generation college students because their drop-out rates are high. When they hit stumbling blocks, we are there for them. We hope that after graduation many will return to Talbot County and pay it forward showing other kids that college can be in their future also,” adds Landau.
Applications to the program and donations to Mid-Shore Scholars can be made through its website midshorescholars.org. For further information, contact Vivian Landau, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit midshorescholars.org.
Founded by Marshall and Loretta Blume in 2019, Mid-Shore Scholars provides a unique curriculum, learning experiences, and activities coupled with college preparation to make attending college a reality to highly motivated high school students. The curriculum of MSS includes language arts, math, college prep, and the Connect Center, which provides tutoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, as well as college tours. The program consists of Saturday Workshops that are project-based in academics and support the MSS six pillars: Communication, Collaboration, Reliability, Time Management, Resilience, and Decision Making.