Monday, February 13, 2017

Please Welcome Special Guest Josue Gil

How to Survive Freshman Year of College: Embrace Your Fears

I graduated from Coachella Valley High School in 2015 and I am currently a student at the University of California, Berkeley. I know that many of you are about to start college, or at least thinking about college since it’s not that far away, so I will share some of my experiences as a college freshmen.

I started out with a summer program called Summer Bridge, which many UC’s offer. It is a program to help you transition to college with preparatory classes. I really recommend going if you have the chance; it is a great experience, and it definitely helped prepare me for the difficulty of the classes in the fall.

I remember taking a math class during Summer Bridge that covered everything up to trigonometry. During that class I realized that I learned math, not in a wrong way, but in a very simplistic manner. The tests are more difficult, and your score is a measure of how well you know the material compared to your classmates. I especially remember a speaker who was talking about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in Berkeley. He explained that most of the students here where at the top of their high school classes, so it was hard to be special when everyone here is just as smart as you or smarter. I know that it was not his intention to scare people, but to bring them to reality. As I listened though, I couldn’t help become even more intimidated by the classes coming up in the fall and spring.
After Summer Bridge, fall semester started and I realized that all my classes felt the same as the math class that I took in the summer. Each class seemed to push you to think in a more complex way about topics. For math, that meant learning formal definitions and proofs. I think that AP classes did help me; however, the classes I took went a step higher. If I had not taken AP classes it would have been a much harder transition. After finishing my fall semester it was time to take classes where the material was unknown to me. I had to take a physics class and the second half of my calculus class. I became intimidated while looking at the grade curves for those classes because grades where spread out evenly, with half the class getting B’s or lower. I also realized that others had already taken physics and calculus in high school while I still needed to take an actual physics class. So knowing very little physics and feeling extremely nervous, I prepared for spring semester.
I can honestly say that Physics is one of the hardest classes that I have ever taken. I learned so much, even though there are some concepts that I still don’t really understand. I also got an excellent grade. A question you may be asking is: how? Even though the tempting answer would be that it was all thanks to my intelligence, I really think it was because of my positive attitude. I told myself that this was what I had signed up for; this was why I was here. Of course, this didn’t make the class any less difficult, but once I overcame my initial intimidation, I never looked back.

I also discovered that when I embraced the challenge that the class provided, I felt an even greater passion for that subject. So when I would get tired of working through problem after problem, I would take a break and start again. When I felt that I was not capable of solving a problem, I would go to my professor, or to someone else, for support. The key to stop being afraid of the difficult problems is to talk to others about the material.

There will be times when a test defeats you. I didn’t do well on one of my midterms and the low test score felt very demoralizing. When this happens you should not be discouraged because it happens to everyone. My professors have told me that it even happens to them. I revised it and promised myself to study harder and find the mistakes in my studying for the final.

Ironically, Physics, the class that intimidated me the most, the subject I felt least prepared for, has become one of the subjects I am most attracted to. I originally intended to major in Chemistry, but after taking a class I decided that it was not for me. Now I am deciding between Physics and Math (maybe both).

I actually had a very similar experience to that of my very good friend Hector Marin. In his blog he mentions how his class was taken by surprise with Schrodinger’s wave equation. During my sophomore year of high school I went to a summer school program at UC Irvine where I encountered that same equation. I did feel frightened, but then I realized that there was something more, a feeling of excitement. There was this feeling of curiosity, I had no idea what the equation meant, but I wanted to figure it out.

The most important thing is to embrace your passions, whether it is solving math problems, like me, or something completely different. It can be very easy to get caught up with getting straight A’s or a high GPA, but sometimes this causes you to miss the best moments in life, or to forget to enjoy the class you are taking. Remember that an obstacle, like a class or test, is just a small step in your journey. I did not get straight A’s my freshmen year of college, but I came close and I enjoyed the challenge that my classes provided.

Josue Gil was born in Mexico, Puebla, but raised in the Coachella Valley. He is currently a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley and an aspiring physicist and mathematician.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Please Welcome Guadalupe "Pita" Saldivar

Wannabe Wizard 
by Guadalupe “Pita” Saldivar

- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 2001
         You got that right, Weasley. Couldn’t have said it better myself.  There is no one more qualified than me to attest to the necessity of choosing priorities. This was a lesson I learned the hard way and here are my credentials. In high school, especially during my senior year, I let far too many things slip through my fingers because I had not put them on the top of my to-do list.

         Being preoccupied is a crime that I cannot plea innocent of. I am guilty of taking on more than I could chew. In my high school career I took on a total of eight AP classes and participated in just as many extracurricular activities. There were rarely days when I was able to leave right after school. Instead I bounced from review sessions to club meetings and then to working on the yearbook. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn but in an attempt to be a time lord wizard, I took on more mischief than I could manage. We don’t all have the luxury of a time-turner allowing us to be in two places at once like Hermione, so I had to learn how to prioritize all these different responsibilities and where to best dedicate my time.

         There were times when, like Hermione, I prioritized my work over my basic necessities such as sleep or pumpkin juice breaks. Im sure many can relate when I say that it’s difficult to fight off a sleeping curse when you come home at nine oclock and still have an endless list of assignments to worry about. I had to choose between prioritizing sleep or homework. I could not do my homework and allow myself to fall asleep, or the alternative, which was to plow through my work in a state of delirium and show up to school the next day feeling like a vat of living death. This vicious cycle continued daily.

Was it worth it? Of course, but looking back, I can see where I could have made better choices.

Getting involved in your school, community, and other organizations helps develop interests outside of the everyday academic requirements. It is important to build connections with others that share similar interests and it is also helpful in broadening your own. I truly love all that I’ve done. All these activities and volunteering opportunities I have been involved in have been enriching experiences. I see my exhaustion is proof that I am living life to the fullest and taking advantage of every opportunity I have. These opportunities can help you develop as a leader and strengthen your skill sets. I am proud of my involvement in my activities of interest and the dedication to my work, they are an important part of what makes me, me.

         As a high school senior, I had to deal with the ramifications of not prioritizing certain things to ensure a bright future. It was tough enough trying to complete current assignments and surviving eminent deadlines in high school, that anything college related often got locked away into the Room of Requirement. Sometimes deadlines for applications and scholarships got placed on the back burner and I dealt with them last minute, if ever at all. This posed a serious problem because there is no flexibility when it comes to college deadlines: there are no extensions or second chances. I recall many conversations that began with, Did you do this? Have you applied for this? Did you finish that?”  Id wince and reply, No I didn’t. I wanted to, but just didn’t have time.” Its times like these when Neville’s remberall could have really come in handy.

          Instead of incorporating college deadlines into my high school to-do list, I often saw these college deadlines as a future problem which I did not want to face at the moment because I was preoccupied with present due dates. In actuality, college due dates were one of the most important things to do and should have taken priority over current issues because they would be the ones that would determine my future, and I sometimes let them fly by on a broomstick. Missing these deadlines can hold serious consequences. If you miss an application deadline, there is no way you are going to that college, or if you miss the FAFSA deadline you are not going to get financial aid. I learned some hard lessons in realizing the importance of getting things done right away and not leaving things till the last minute.

         Enemies of the clock beware; there is a fine line between procrastinating and prioritizing other responsibilities. It is sometimes easier in the moment to put things off and claim that they are not currently important. Doing this will come back to haunt you like Moaning Myrtle. The only way to avoid the constant nagging of your conscience is to live life with the mentality that there is no time like the present, carpe diem, no day but today. The only way I can survive my Hungarian Horntail of responsibilities is to take things one day at a time and never put off for tomorrow what can be done today. And the only way to do that is with a realistic to-do list of priorities.

Never let anything prevent you from achieving your goals. In the end, there is no single magical solution. Learning to prioritize is not just about making to-do lists; it’s about knowing what to move to the top of that list and knowing what to move down, what to add and what to obliviate. So write your own prophecy, seek greatness, and catch that golden snitch.

Due to her wit, creativity, and passion for learning Guadalupe “Pita” Saldivar is an honorary member of Ravenclaw House. All her hard work paid off as she graduated from CVHS this past June ranked third in her class. Pita is currently studying as an Undeclared-Humanities Major at UCLA and checks her mailbox regularly for her Hogwarts letter to arrive. Likewise, she encourages all of you to reach for the stars and never give up on your dreams.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Please Welcome Special Guest Alejandro Perez

Using Disadvantage to Your Advantage
By Alejandro Perez

I used to think that if a person did not receive a college degree, it was his or her fault. That he or she chose not to put in the effort and work hard enough to move on to higher education. This may still be true to an extent, yet there is a much bigger picture that is often ignored: compared to whites, people of color in this country remain at an educational, and therefore economic, disadvantage.

Historically, when college first started here in the United States, it was originally made to educate wealthy white male students, then it expanded to all white male students, rich or poor, and then eventually to white women. Over time, college would become what it is today, available for every student of any background to attend; however, people of color – Blacks, Latin@s, Native Americans, etc. – are still struggling to catch up.

As whites graduated with their degrees and made more money they would often return to their old schools and contribute to improve them and become role models to the students. For people of color, there has unfortunately rarely been much of that. For these cultures, not pursuing higher education has become the norm due to the fact that it is so uncommon in their communities. Because of this, schools such as Coachella Valley High School, with a predominately Latin@ population, have less resources provided to them, less money to send students on field trips to colleges, and less role models to look at as motivation to see that higher education is possible. All of this results in limiting students’ abilities and in students limiting themselves.

If you are reading this and you are a person of color, this is the reality you face that you might not have even noticed yet. Just by being a person of color you are put at a disadvantage, not only in the education system, but also in this society in general. In other words, going to college is not really seen in your future and this system is basically designed for you to fail.

So all odds are against you. How do you fight it? Do you just accept it and not even try to go on to higher education like many people you know have done in the past? Or do you apply to college and try to beat this system before it beats you? And even when you apply to college, do you just apply to the easy schools that you know you will for sure get into? Or do you challenge yourself and aim high by applying to UCs and private schools? While some of these questions may seem like they have obvious answers of what not to do, you will be surprised when you see the number of students who still actually get beaten by the system. The way I see to beat this system is this: use your disadvantage to your advantage. 

Consider the following scenario: So imagine you work for a university, lets say UCLA, and your job is to read applications and decide whom you think should be admitted, given that you have a limited amount of students you can accept. You have two applications side by side, one is an applicant from Palm Desert High School and the other is from Coachella Valley High School. As you go over the applications and compare them, you notice that they are nearly equal. One may have a higher GPA, while the other has higher test scores, and they both have really strong personal statements. How can you decide between the two if they are pretty much equal? But then you start to dig deeper. You see that the applicant from Palm Desert High School had everything needed to apply to college, all the materials, all the resources, everything. On the other hand, the applicant from Coachella Valley High School had little to nothing, less materials, less resources, etc. At that moment you tell yourself, “This person from Palm Desert had everything handed to them in high school, while this person from Coachella had very little handed to them…yet still managed to put in the work, get the grades, and prove that college is important.” Now you make your decision.

See what I mean now? Even though all the odds are against you, but you still manage to prove that you deserve to be accepted into a prestigious university, you will stand out. You might still doubt if this is even true. If you doubt it, go to any alumni you know from CVHS that went to a UC or private school and ask them if they had anything handed to them in high school and how much work they put in when they applied to college. I can already tell you what they will say because this situation is exactly what happened to me.

But in order to get to that point, first of all, you cannot let people limit you, school faculty, family, peers, etc. But more importantly, you cannot limit yourself. This is the way the broken system beats you. What I mean by limiting yourself is never settling for the minimum. This is where a student’s effort comes into play. You apply to college, ok cool, that is great! But was it challenging for you at all though? Did the application ask you any questions that really made you think? Was there an essay you had to write for the application? Maybe two essays? In other words, were any of the schools you applied to UC’s or private schools? This is where it takes more than just having good grades and test scores. Like CVHS senior Aylene Sicairos explained in the previous blog, “For The Well Rounded Student, Every Minute Counts,” it is important to get involved and stand out, outside of the classroom. I did not nearly have the high test scores that students usually have when they are accepted into UC’s. My SAT, ACT, and AP scores were below the average. However, I played sports all four years of high school, joined two different clubs, did community service off campus, managed a 3.9 GPA and worked my ass off to perfect my personal statement.

For those of you who want to aim high and are willing to put in the work, but are concerned about financial issues…if you are accepted into a university I can almost guarantee that they will give you a good amount of financial aid. However, if you are still concerned that that still will not be enough, ask yourself, what scholarships are out there? Did you even think about applying for scholarships? Once again, if you really want it you will put in the work. This is how you beat the system.

To reference Aylene Sicairos again, will this come with stress? Indeed it will. Will this help you improve yourself as a diligent scholar? Absolutely!

I did not write this with the intention to say that I am right and everything else you hear is wrong. I wrote this so that you can be aware of the reality around you and develop a different understanding when your time comes to apply to colleges.

As you become more aware of the system you are in, remind yourself that overcoming the many obstacles placed before you is not impossible. Take advantage of your disadvantage. Once you make it here, be ready for the experience of a lifetime!

Alejandro Perez was born and raised in the City of Coachella. He is a first year Chicano Studies and Global Studies double major at UC Santa Barbara and hopes to get his PhD and become a Professor. He is very passionate about his culture and loves being a social activist. Anyone with questions about the college application process, UCSB, or college in general, feel free to email Alejandro at

Monday, February 29, 2016

Please Welcome Special Guest Aylene Sicairos

For the Well Rounded Student, Every Minute Counts
By Aylene Sicairos

Albert Einstein once said, "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving." If you are college driven, one of the biggest things you must keep in mind is being well rounded. Really, if you ever have a conversation about school with an adult, they will ask you if you are doing a sport or if you are in a club. It's crucial that you try to balance yourself out by not only keeping up your grades, but also by doing productive things with your time. Colleges love that, and they keep it in mind when selecting students.

Now, even though I just said you should try to do as much as possible in high school, my real point here is to give advice on how to balance it all out. Being well rounded means not only doing your best academically, but also being a leader, a teammate, a volunteer, a role model, and someone you, yourself, are proud of. For example, I am currently a senior at Coachella Valley High School and have been in cheerleading for three consecutive years. I am part of various clubs such as the Advanced Placement Club, Girl Power, the Chorus Club, and the National Honor Society, and I am ranked among the top ten percent of my class. I am the oldest of six children, and I am practically the second mother at home. On top of all that, I have taken five AP classes throughout my high school career.

Can you imagine going to school at seven a.m. every morning, then going to meetings right after school, then going to practices for a sport, and then getting home at around six every day, sometimes even as late as eight? Oh, and then on top of that, when you get home you have to help siblings with homework, clean up after you help make dinner, and somehow squeeze in homework without falling asleep after you shower around eleven p.m.? Yeah, that's just a little summary of my usual day. I took the chance to join many groups and activities, but I did it for my own benefit. Do I cry and complain at times? Of course! However, my study habits have improved as well as my time management skills. I can honestly say I'm prepared for college because of this.

Believe it or not, having so many things going on in my life has kept me on my toes and allowed me to get things done more efficiently. The way I look at it, if I have more free time to myself, I'll most likely waste it by watching Netflix all day or playing video games when I could be putting in extra study time or doing homework. Others may feel movies and video games are necessary forms of entertainment or relaxation, but I believe it's more important that students take time to explore their interests in clubs and get to know more people. I mean, you can tweet to people all day if you want, but it's much more worthwhile meeting people that have the same interests as you—face to face—as you would by joining clubs and sports. People who share an interest of singing join the Chorus Club; people who love acting join the Drama Club, etc. There are even people who form their own clubs and find people who enjoy the same interests, such as the Rubik’s Cube Club.

Now that I have given you a small a look at my life, I can tell you that taking on so many responsibilities might stress you out at times; it is only normal. I once got stress rashes during my freshman year for freaking out so much. When you have a lot on your plate, the best way to make sure you get everything done is to make a priority list. I literally jot down everything I have to do on a paper, and then sort it out in order of importance. Now, I have had to pick and choose sometimes, believe it or not, and dedicate more time to one class on a certain day, or to practice my dance routines more than my schoolwork on another. When this happens, I try to compensate for the other classes the next day and make sure I am soon up to par with everything again. If you ever get double booked on meetings on a certain day, for example, tell the club advisors. Make sure you let them know. They’ll understand. There really is no need to stress as long as you have a valid excuse.

Make sure you do not overwork yourself though. It’s also important to know your limits. I always thought I could do as much as I put on my plate and never crash and burn. I won't be specific, but it happened. Let's just say my grades started to suffer at the worst time possible in anyone's life. I had always been the type of student to never worry about grades because I never had that problem. When I was confronted with the issue, I finally realized that I had to limit my workload. There will always be a limit to what you can do, so make sure you don't overextend yourself.

Most importantly, have fun…just as long as you can remain focused on your classes because your grades are ultimately what you should make your number one priority. Squeeze in as much study time as you can…and if possible, help your parents at home as much as you can squeeze that in too. Colleges will take every thing you do into consideration, so be wise as you start out in high school. Even though it’s never too late to get involved in something new, consistency is also very important; which means it's better when you're a part of the same things for years, such as being in the same sport since freshman year, or holding a position in student government since freshman year as well.

I can honestly say all this hard work has paid off because I had so much to write about and include when it came to completing my scholarship portfolio and applying to colleges. I am currently waiting for my college acceptances. So far I’ve been accepted to Cal State Long Beach and Grand Canyon University. I am telling you, the joy from getting acceptance letters is out of this world! I can truly say that my attempt to be well rounded in high school has made me a stronger student. Finding the right balance between my academics and my activities has improved my time management skills, which will pay off in the long run as well. Now, as I prepare to graduate from high school and start a new journey in college, I am certain the skills I have gained here will be put to valuable use.

Aylene Sicairos is a giraffe obsessed, aspiring neurosurgeon who plans on ending bullying one day. Her hobbies include singing, dancing, playing video games, and binge watching Netflix.