TAMPA, Fla. — How soon should students start thinking about college?

At IDEA Public Schools in Tampa, those conversations are happening as soon as kids walk through their doors.

It’s a practice school leaders say is even more important now because of the education gaps caused by the pandemic.

What You Need To Know

  • IDEA Hope College Preparatory School is sending 100 eighth graders to Tallahassee for an overnight college visit/field lesson in March

  • For 16 consecutive years, nearly 100 percent of IDEA Public Schools graduates have gone on to college, with more than 70 percent being the first in their family to attend college

  • The school had started fundraising efforts to pay for this upcoming college visit but in the last week they got a donation from the Vinik Family Foundation

  • According to the Education Data Initiative, when it comes to college enrollment, Black students make up 13%. Twenty percent are Hispanic and more than 50% are white

“Even with our COVID gap, our college counselors reached out to each individual student to make sure they’re still getting the credit stuff they need and that they’re still going to college,” said Leslie Ortiz, Idea Hope Assistant Principal. “In fact, they actually meet our students at those colleges to make sure they have their schedules and ready to go so we make sure our vision and mission doesn’t stop at high school.”

Ortiz said the majority of their students are African American. Because of the disparities when it comes to education, school officials said they’re being intentional about exposing children to college. 

“We don’t want to wait too long to where they’re in high school and college may seem like an afterthought,” said Vernon White, a teacher at the school. “We want them to know right now to build their college identity and understand people who look like them can go to college.”

That representation is important for eighth-grade students, like Nubia Pesina.

“My dad really wants me to go to college,” she said. “He says he came here for a reason.”

Pesina said her father has worked tirelessly since their family moved to the Tampa Bay area from Mexico. Focusing on college is how she plans to make it all worth it.

“I want to change my and my family’s life,” Pesina said. “I would try to get my dad into retirement as fast as I can and provide everything for him that he got me.”

That’s the same kind of motivation student James Leysath has.

“My mom, she has her ups and downs, and she wants me to not struggle how she did,” Leysath said. “And she wants to make sure that my life will go perfect.”

For students like Leysath and Pesina, that perfection starts at their school that’s already planned a trip to take them on a college visit — which was a surprise to their families.

“I really don’t know any kids going on trips outside of IDEA that’s going on trips like this. My brother is a senior, and he was talking to me about it and he said he never went on a field trip like this,” Leysath said.

It’s an experience that could change their lives.