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Family Ties: Program unites Hispanic mothers and daughters on the path to academic success

the Tristan family
Photo: Marsha Miller
Left to right, Lupita, 18, Claudia, 11, and Adriana, 15. Their mother Guadalupe Tristan is in the middle.
To fulfill their dreams of becoming a lawyer, a psychologist and a veterinarian, three Austin sisters have formed what they believe is a dream team. But the best part may be that they get to work with a best friend — their mother.

Guadalupe Tristan and her daughters — 18-year-old Lupita, 15-year-old Adriana, and 11-year-old Claudia — are participating in the Junior League, Inc. Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program, a college preparatory program for Hispanic girls at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work.

The program, which serves 1,016 students and their mothers from 17 Austin Independent School District schools, is celebrating its 10th year anniversary this year. Each member of the Tristan family served as a keynote speaker at recent anniversary ceremonies.

Developed to provide Hispanic female students in grades 6-12 with the educational and social support needed to encourage academic and personal success, the Hispanic Mother-Daughter program provides tutoring services, computer training, individual academic counseling, mentoring and workshops to improve performance on standardized tests. There also are weekend conferences and parent support groups.

Students are required to maintain an 85 or better grade-point average and to complete a certain number of volunteer hours each academic year. Thus far, the program has had two graduating classes and will be sending off its third group of students to college this year.

"The program thrives on the natural bond between mothers and daughters," said Executive Director Rose Regalado. "Each mother-daughter pair is a team, focusing on building their friendship and creating a world of possibilities for the future. They begin their journey together during the daughter's sixth-grade year and continue through her high school graduation."

Lupita Tristan believes the mother-daughter bond is essential for the program. "I think that going through adolescence is a trying time for both mothers and daughters — neither one of them is too sure about what's going on in the other's mind," said Lupita, a recent graduate of the program who is studying international business and Spanish at Concordia University and works at the Austin law firm of Locke Liddell & Sapp. "The program gave us some common ground and served as a catalyst for conversation."

The program, said Lupita, helps the mothers understand the new traditions and habits that are being formed in society while it teaches the girls about their heritage. "But most important," she said, "the program helps women (both mothers and daughters) see themselves as accomplished individuals. It helps us realize that "yeah, there may be a 50 percent high school drop-out rate for Hispanic girls, but I don't have to be part of that statistic."

"I can do more. I am capable. I possess the intelligence and drive to finish school. I can be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a judge or anything I want to be."

While Lupita wants to be a lawyer, her sister, Adriana, wants to attend college to study psychology and English. A freshman at Bowie High School, Adriana is a candidate for treasurer of the Class of 2005, plays the clarinet in the school band and is a member of the Bowie Silver Star varsity dance team.

"Through the program I have learned about my Hispanic heritage, received tutoring lessons for tough classes and found ways to improve my relationship with my mother," Adriana said. “I want to attend college, make excellent grades and meet a lot of people.”

With two older sisters in the Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program, youngest daughter Claudia always knew she would join. A sixth grader at Bailey Middle School, Claudia participates in the pep squad and plays the harp, which was a special gift from her grandfather. She is dedicated to earning good grades and plans to attend college to study veterinary medicine.

One of her favorite program activities was an overnight trip to the university campus where she met new friends and learned how to exercise more.

Guadalupe credits the program with forging a stronger relationship among her and her daughters.

Although she and her husband went to college in Mexico, many of the girls in the program will be the first in their family to seek degrees in higher education. Regardless of her background, Guadalupe said she didn’t have a clue how to proceed with U.S. college preparations — applications, admissions requirements and scholarship inquiries for her daughters.

"Most parents are in the dark as to how to pay for school or even fill out applications,” said Lupita. “My mother had the process explained to her and, during the entire hassle of college admissions, we were really able to talk about it and look at other options because we both understood."

The quest to increase the representation of Hispanic females in college — to see a once awkward and shy sixth grader blossoming into a young woman with high aspirations — has been a truly amazing experience, said Regalado.

“As their final high school years draw to a close and the college acceptance letters start rolling in," Regalado said, "we begin hearing jubilant proclamations of ‘I got in!’" And, that is when we know that we have made some small differences in the lives of our students.”

For further information contact: Sonia Briseno, Asst. Director, Junior League Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program, (512) 475-7537.

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  Updated 2014 October 13
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