El Rancho High School’s Bethania Perez, Newly Appointed Student Advisory Board Member of Michelle Obama’s #BetterMakeRoom

Bethania Perez—a senior student at El Rancho High School and member of Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera—was inaugurated as 1 of 17 students nationwide to serve on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room Student Advisory Board.

During Bethania’s visit to the White House in January, she learned about the important mission she has accepted as a board member and had an opportunity to meet with like-minded students, civic leaders and be in the same room with celebrities, such as Usher. She and her fellow board members met with First Lady Michelle Obama and attended Mrs. Obama’s final speech as First Lady.

We had a chance to talk with Bethania and learn more about her experience and role as a student advisory board member…

To be part of Better Make Room’s (BMR) Student Advisory Board is a fantastic opportunity. What motivated you to apply?

I am currently a peer advisory at my school helping other students reach college, so one of El Rancho High’s student counselors thought I should apply for the Better Make Room opportunity. My parents did not reach higher education and my older brother didn’t continue to college, so I want to make a change in my family and show my parents that the hard work they put forth for us is not going to waste. I want to continue my work emphasizing how important college is for our community and that it’s a priority. I knew that Better Make Room’s Student Advisory Board would allow me to do that on a bigger level.

Tell us about when you found out your were accepted as a board member.

In early December BMR contacted me via email to tell me I passed the first round and would be scheduling a phone interview later in the week. By mid-December I received an email confirming that I was selected. I couldn’t believe it! In that email was an invitation for me to go to the White House in January for the student inauguration. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make that happen. Fortunately, Jacki Cisneros and Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera sponsored me to attend the inauguration. I’m so very thankful for Jacki for giving me this opportunity.

On January 6, 2017, you were in Washington, D.C. in the White House with the Better Make Room Student Advisory Board. Not many people can say that they’ve been to the White House AND hugged FLOTUS. Tell us more about that day.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and had a chance to go sight seeing on Thursday. On the morning of Friday, the 6th, I met the other student advisors and we all walked to the White House together. We entered through the east wing and had about 30 minutes to walk around. It was amazing and I couldn’t believe I was there. Then we went upstairs to hear a panel of speakers. After that session, we headed back downstairs and that’s when we got really anxious because we were all about to meet with Michelle Obama

It was a dream! She gave each of us a hug and we took a group photo. She told us that she was so proud of all of us applying to her Better Make Room program and deciding to use our voices for something bigger. This was just moments before she delivered her last speech as First Lady Michelle Obama, which we were all invited to attend and experience. In that moment, during her speech, I couldn’t believe that it was real. I’ve always watched her speeches on TV and there I was experiencing it. There was not a dry eye in the room. You could feel the emotion in the air. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I feel went by so quick, but I will always remember it

Do you feel like the experience changed you?

Mrs. Obama is such an inspiration and she made me feel more confident that I can make a difference with my voice and use my ideas to encourage others to reach higher and dream big.

What are your next steps as an advisory member?

Each month I have to set a goal for myself on how I’m going to promote higher education at El Rancho High and in the community. I’ll also contribute a blog post on the activities I create at school, and meet with my fellow board members to share ideas and support. In Spring, we’re going to have a College Signing Day, so be on the look out for news and information about that day.

We are very proud of Bethania and look forward to seeing what’s to come in the coming months as she encourages her peers and the community to #reachhigher! #BetterMakeRoom

A New Year Brings New Opportunities

The New Year has already brought new and exciting opportunities for our Generation 1st Degree students. In just the first week of 2017, my husband Gilbert and I traveled with El Rancho High School student Bethania Perez to Washington D.C., where Bethania was inaugurated as one of Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room Student Advisory Board Members. We are so proud of her and excited about the fact that she is one out of 17 students, nationwide, to be appointed. This speaks volumes of the caliber of leadership qualities she brings to the Better Make Room Student Advisory Board.

During our trip to D.C., I got to watch Bethania experience so many rare opportunities for any student, let alone one of our students from Pico Rivera. As the day unfolded, it just got better and more unreal and memorable for her. She experienced snowfall in D.C., mingled in the White House in a room full of civic leaders and celebrities; and last but not least, she met First Lady Michelle Obama and got be part of history as we all listened to Mrs. Obama deliver her final speech.

We were all moved and touched by Mrs. Obama’s words. Listening to Mrs. Obama deliver her final words was an experience all of us will remember forever. As I look back and think about the words she shared, I can’t help but feel extra proud that Bethania will be continuing the hard work that Mrs. Obama has spearheaded for first-generation students. I also feel encouraged that despite any challenges or hiccups we may face as individuals, students or as a community, there is hope in the next generation of smart, ambitious and fearless leaders.

I hope that Bethania’s story will inspire other students in our community to aim high. Don’t be afraid to believe in yourself. Take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. You may have to put in the hard work to earn that opportunity, but once that door opens, it opens up the possibility to so much more.




#Don and #BetterMakeRoom Contributor Shares New Year’s Views

As we begin 2017, we want to highlight Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera alumnus Crystal Sanchez who was recently featured as Better Make Room Twitter Takeover guests contributor. Better Make Room is a social media program started by First Last Michelle Obama to support first-generation college students by offering resources and sharing stories from like-minded students around the country. We’ve included a few words from Crystal, as well as links to her inspiring Better Make Room blog post about her college-going experience.

My Better Make Room Twitter Takeover was a wonderful and rewarding experience. I am beyond grateful that Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros recommended me for the opportunity to inspire students just like myself to believe in them by sharing my story. I remember feeling terrified at the mere thought of college because I feared the possibility of rejection. I did not possess the self-confidence to believe in myself but eventually, I gained a positive mindset and learned to have faith in my capabilities. My Better Make Room Twitter Takeover has granted me the opportunity to remind other students that they too are capable of whatever they set their minds to.

I enjoyed every aspect of the Takeover. One of my favorite components involved sharing my own college tips through the Better Make Room twitter account. I wanted to provide students with pointers I found the most helpful during my transition into college. I really wanted to stress the importance of enjoying oneself in college. Of course, academics always come first but it is all about finding a balance between studying and engaging in social activities. I found the overall structure of the Takeover to be fun and appealing to students. I can only hope my story has eased the minds of students about college. After all, anything can be achieved if one believes. Thank you to First Lady Michelle Obama for inspiring me to reach for the stars!

To read about Crystal’s Better Make Room Twitter Takeover, click here.

A Parent’s Perspective On Generation 1st Degree Programs

Gloria Aguirre, El Rancho High School parent of senior high school student twins, Melissa and Michelle Aguirre, 17, shares with Michelle Sandoval, program lead for Generation 1st Degree programs, about her family’s college preparation experience.

Tell us about your family.

We’re a family of 6. My husband is from Zacatecas, Mexico, and is the breadwinner for our home. I’ve been a stay at home mom for the last 5 years. So in our house of 6, we have Madeline and Melissa who are 17, and 2 younger boys who are 6 and 9 years old. They’re into sports and Melissa and Madeline are into choir. Madeline is really involved in politics, and Melissa is still part of her MIT program that ends in January.

As Melissa and Madeline are applying to college, what has the process been like for you seeing them go through it?

They have always been on top of things. I’ve never really had to push them to do anything. I know that being part of Generation 1st Degree’s programs has introduced them to a lot of new things. It guides and gives them a structure. I can’t say it was me…. I can’t say it is mommy or daddy pushing them, because it was more the programs on campus. They have always had a goal since they were young and they had a vision and because they can see that, they are self-driven. So with all of the opportunities offered here at the high school it just makes things easier for them.

What opportunities from Generation 1st Degree programs have they participated in that has shaped them as they apply to college?

I remember something in particular with Madeline. She met one of the guest speakers last summer who is a lawyer. Because that is Madeline’s interest (becoming a lawyer) and hearing how the guest speaker got to her goal and how she did it really inspired her. Madeline came home and said, “Mommy, I have to do this and that….” and started listing all of the things the lawyer said. So having guest speakers come out and expose them to the professions they are interested in has really shaped and helped them continue to stay focused on what they have to do to get ready for college.

For Melissa, she’s my undercover bright little girl. She’s self-driven…they both have always had the vision so for me it’s easy to say that I really haven’t done much. They know their goals and anything that has to do with college; they are already know what to do, so all of the programs through Generation 1st Degree and Be A Leader only make it better for them. It’s part of their structure.

And for you, as a parent, what has been the biggest help or opportunity that you think you’ve been exposed to with Be A Leader and the twins’ participation in all of the college prep programs?

I think, as a parent, the girls being part Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera and being provided the tools through these programs has been the biggest help. We are so fortunate that they are able to provide those tools to our high school. I’m very grateful…beyond grateful for what they’ve done to make our life easier. Because ultimately these kids have goals and it’s not that we’re not ready as parents to help. For me, I think I’m a great mentor for them, but the structure that the programs have provided makes our life easier. The unknown is a little scary as far as where they’re going to end up for college, but ultimately, I know they’ve got las ganas and I know they have the vision and goals, and I can see them reaching high.