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College prep program takes Lynn’s La Vida students online

By Steve Krause | March 23, 2020

LYNN — Peter Barros worries about how the high school juniors in this year’s La Vida Scholar program are going to fare under the provisions made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But then again, he says, “if there’s a generation that’s best adaptable to do things virtually, and Facetiming, and things like that, it is this one. They’ve been doing it in their own lives.”

Barros is chief executive officer of the college prep program that is geared toward finding Lynn boys and girls of low-income families and matching them up with colleges that might be able to not only accept them, but offer generous financial aid packages.

La Vida also offers these students help in navigating the arduous process of applying to college and scholarships. It is a program that is built around the very social interaction this virus has eliminated for the time being.

La Vida’s Munroe Street office is closed, and much of the work usually done face-to-face, such as conferences with the organization’s advisers, is being done virtually.

However, some things cannot be done over the Internet.

“I’m worried about our juniors,” Barros said. “This is the time where you’re focusing on what life is going to be like next year for them.”

For example, there is preparation for June’s SAT (May’s have already been canceled) and ACT tests. 

“We offer prep classes this time of year,” Barros said. “Kids will take classes for the next two months leading up to the tests, and also help them to draft essays. Now, that’s all on hold.”

Also on hold are workshops on applications.

“The application process as it is presents barriers for low-income students and families,” Barros said. “We try to combat that. We worry now that some kids will fall behind.”

Similarly, April vacation college trips are also off.

“That’s so essential to preparing for senior year,” Barros said, adding that this year’s senior class “has had amazing acceptances, including Amherst College and MIT.

“Normally, an accepted student might get to visit a college before the May 1 decision deadline,” Barros said. “Now, they’re not going to have that experience.”

La Vida has 90 students this year — 45 high school seniors and 45 juniors from Lynn’s public high schools. That represents its highest numbers ever. 

Students apply after their sophomore years. Their financial status is a large factor as “the families have to qualify as low-income,” Barros said. Also, for students to qualify academically, they have to have a 3.2 GPA.

So far, Barros said, the staff has been up to the challenge of administering to the students’ needs.

“The staff is amazing,” Barros said. “They are meeting with students and their families virtually.”

What makes Barros almost as sad as knowing how this situation has affected his students is the knowledge that special life events won’t be held, either for them or for the La Vida alumni who are getting ready to leave college.

“Graduations and end-of-year celebrations are going to be called off,” he said, noting that La Vida holds its own ceremony for its graduates.

“These kids have been looking forward to these moments their entire lives,” Barros said. “Some colleges have canceled ceremonies. We hope to have our own commencement ceremony, but we’ll have to take a wait-and-see on that.”