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Seniors attend college application workshop

DANIA BEACH — Applying for college requires a lot of work. Students need to write essays, fill out lengthy and intricate applications and take standardized college entrance exams. Since everything needs to be done on a rigid deadline, the process can be intimidating. To help navigate this multifaceted task, the Tribe held a college application workshop at SpringHill Suites Hotel in Dania Beach from Sept. 14-16.

The Tribe has approximately 45 high school seniors, and they came from Hollywood, Brighton, Immokalee, Trail and Mississippi to get assistance writing their essays and sending in their applications. Tutors and Education Department staff members supported the students’ efforts and offered guidance and advice.

“The goal was to have the kids walk out of here with their college essays completed and perfected with the help of a specialized writing tutor and to have their college applications submitted for early acceptance,” said Robert Caruso, Higher Education recruiter. “They don’t realize how much of a burden this would be to do it on their own. To be able to get their essays critiqued takes a huge weight off their shoulders so they can focus on their grades.”

Nationwide, only 1 percent of college students are Native American, but this could benefit the students.

“Being a Native American is a great thing,” said Paola Moneymaker, Education adviser. “Colleges want diversity on their campuses, so it could be an advantage for you. When you write your essays, pour your hearts into it. They want to know you and what you’ve been through in life.”

The department chose the tutors specifically for their strong writing skills. Some schools may require more than one essay, while others may require different types of essays, so the tutors helped students narrow down their topics and focus their messages. They also helped students expand an idea and come up with the best wording, but they did not write the essays for them. Instead, they offered constructive criticism.

“You are writing about your experience, which is good, but you need to cut out all the fluff,” tutor Sean McFadden said to one participant. “There are too many words here; fewer can be more powerful.”

Students knew they were getting valuable help at the workshop.

“The college application process is new to me, but now that I’m a senior I have to do it,” said Miss Florida Seminole Alexis Aguilar, 17, of Immokalee, who planned to apply to Florida State University, University of Oregon and Harvard University. “This is a good opportunity to get the help I need to fill out the application. You don’t find everything you need to know on the schools’ websites.”

Garrett Smith wants to study animal biology so he can pursue a career in wildlife management and preservation.

“This will bring me a step closer to what I want to do in life,” he said. “It’s been very helpful. I learned new ways to write and better writing techniques.”

Phillip Jones knew what he wanted to write about but knew he needed help to get it right.

“I chose something that impacted my life, an experience,” said Jones, 17, of Brighton. “I knew I couldn’t write it the right way, so I’m glad the tutor is here to help me.”

Education Department staff explained the Tribe’s scholarship program and the 2.0 GPA requirement to continue to qualify for it. The Tribe pays for tuition, books, on-campus housing and any special supplies necessary for a major. The students are responsible for their own food plans and other expenses, so they were encouraged to seek out grants and scholarships online.

Julissa Collazo, tutor coordinator, said the Tribe is working with a company that has a program to help students bring up their SAT and ACT scores, as well as tutoring during college if they need it.

“The Tribe wants you in college and then to come back to the community and make a difference,” Moneymaker said. “We want you to join clubs and have fun, but don’t lose focus; you are there for an education. And we will always be here to help you succeed.”

The voices of the students are loud and clear in their college essays. Here are some excerpts:

“The smell of burning firewood lingered in my frigid nostrils. I couldn’t seem to shake the aftertaste of a stale breakfast in the back of my throat. I could feel only my heart pounding and the cold steel of the rifle in my trembling bare hands. The silence was consuming, interrupted only by the chirps of distant birds and the gun hammer slowing cocking back. Looking through my breath in the cool air in front of me, I could see only the steady rise and fall of the deer’s chest in my crosshair. This was my moment of truth.”

– Garrett Smith, 17, of Brighton, plans to apply to the University of Florida, Florida State University and Texas A&M University.

“Culture, something not many people appreciate, but me, I like to think my culture has made me who I am. I identify myself as Native American, and many people may hear that and associate my people and/or myself with only the Hard Rock and what they’ve learned in their history books, but a lot of what people do not know is hidden. Things weren’t just handed to me, and my Tribe didn’t just wake up one day and everything was there. What we’ve become is because of who we came from, our elders and ancestors have given us what we have today. They’ve taught me so much throughout my life, about respect and about carrying on my culture, because in reality my culture separates me and my people from other Natives around the world. We never let anyone push us around and tell us who we are, and what we can and cannot do, and I feel as though I have inherited those same traits. I define myself as strong and independent. I don’t let people define me and what I can and cannot do. My culture gives my people strength, and my people give me the strength I have now.”

– Jaryaca Baker, 17, of Brighton, plans to apply to the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of Georgia and Florida Gulf Coast University.

“As I think of a significant experience that has impacted me, I think of a particular moment in my life where I was placed in a position that made me realize what really matters in life. At the age of 15, in my sophomore year in high school, I was in my second period class. Then all of a sudden, I was called out by the dean and three officers, and taken to the office where I was searched. Even though I had no paraphernalia on me I was still arrested along with 24 other students who were involved in the drug sting operation, which was called ‘Operation No More.’”

– Phillip Jones, 17, of Brighton, plans to apply to Florida State University, the University of Central Florida, Florida International University, Tallahassee Community College, Grand Canyon University and the University of Kansas.

“My family is very important to me. I am Native American, so that gave many challenges and many advantages. Being Indian, I am very into my culture and history. People have this idea that all Seminoles are drug addicts and have a lot of money. Yes, we have money but not all Indians are drug addicts. My family history, culture, and environment helped me be the woman I am today.”

– Sara Huggins, 17, of Pembroke Pines, plans to apply to the University of Central Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, the University of Alabama, Arizona State University, the University of Georgia, the University of Florida, the University of Miami and the University of South Florida.

“Through volunteering at the orphanage and seeing that these children were so happy with what little they had made me appreciate the lifestyle I live today. I hope to volunteer more of my time to those in need. The feeling of accomplishment motivates me to make more trips abroad to inspire and be inspired by other cultures. In the next four years, I plan to incorporate the leadership skills I acquired from the trip to Thailand and apply them to my studies. I’ll use this experience to not be afraid to explore new adventures.”

– Elena Jim, 17, of Miami, plans to apply to the University of Miami, Florida International University and Manhattan College in New York.

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at

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