The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Puente Project shows strengths during pandemic

Since the pandemic began, City College staffers at the Puente Project have been working to connect with Latinx students online to outfit them with school supplies, books and other necessities. Alejandra Benites, a former Puente student now attending Sacramento State, has worked for the project for two years and, along with others, including Rasa/ASHÉ staff, gave away goodie bags in mid-September to students who drove through William Land Park. 

Benites, now the Puente student personnel assistant, said that she has been busier than ever, especially during the goodie bag distribution in the park, which was part of Bienvenida (Welcome) Week.

“The goodie bags were filled with masks, candy, pens, flash drives,” said Benites, “everything a student will need to be successful this semester—especially those masks because you need them everywhere.”

The Puente Project, which serves the college’s Latinx community to help students complete degrees and transfer, has made major changes this fall to accommodate students with remote learning. Its counseling and mentoring sessions, English writing classes and Human Career Development courses have moved fully online. Puente staff now reach students through social media, assisting them with school supplies and books and hosting Zoom events for students throughout the semester, according to Benites.

Many students find themselves working more than before the pandemic spread and sometimes can’t attend class or don’t have time for homework, Benites said. Puente staff members try to maintain contact with these students to support them with resources they need for school or to offer emotional support through peer mentoring that encourages them to talk about college life as well as home life. 

“Last semester, we had a student who worked in the fields. He was a farm worker and he would attend class while he was working,” said Benites. “That’s when we noticed our students were struggling trying to navigate this online world while still trying to provide for their family during this hard time.”

That, said Benites, has been the biggest change students have experienced this semester—dealing with the effects of family members who have been laid off and are on unemployment, earning significantly less money. 

“Students need more assistance as in gas cards, books [and] supply money,” said Benites. “Thankfully, we are very privileged that Puente offers students all of this.”

The ways in which the Puente Project reaches students have also changed during the pandemic, according to Benites. Instagram has been the project’s main platform since the college transitioned to remote instruction in March, though staffers have used other methods to keep in touch.

“Social media has been a big help,” said Benites. “Phone calls, emails, text. Also, we try to meet, following social distance guidelines. Going to parks. Basically, we try everything to reach our students and our students always reach us.”

Students who join Puente Project are often recent high school graduates and rely on these services to help them succeed academically, Benites said. Puente classes, for example, include English writing that emphasizes Latinx culture. In those classes, students read books by Latinx authors and share experiences from their communities. They also take Human Career Development courses that focus on group cohesion and where students meet with mentors to learn what to expect in college. 

“Each year we have partnered up our students individually to each mentor. But, this semester they can’t meet with students one on one,” said Benites. “So we’re starting to roll out something called mentor pláticas, which are mentor talks. We will have five mentor talks this semester with three mentors for every Zoom session and our Puente students can sign up to be in those Zoom calls.”

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These talks will feature mentors via Zoom who will share their personal stories of success, from navigating college life to answering students’ questions or addressing concerns and to help bring a sense of community to Puente students.

The Puente Club, an extension of the Puente Project, holds Zoom sessions called Creative Circle every Fri, 6-7:30 p.m. This event is held exclusively for Puente students to meet, listen to music, play games, and eat dinner together. Puente Club also has club meetings online every Thu from noon-1 p.m.

Vanessa Barrera is the Puente Club vice president, a Puente Project mentor and a City College student majoring in sociology. According to Barrera, there have been challenges for students trying to bond on screen during virtual events. To counteract this, Barrera and other mentors have created virtual games so students can have fun online.

“A lot has changed, like we are limited on events that we can do, and Puente classes and clubs are all online, so it’s harder for students to have the bond with their peers and us than if we were in person,” Barrera said. “But the Puente Program works day and night to find out how they can be able to socialize and create a Puente experience online.”

Barrera added that though she can’t meet with her mentees in person, she still texts them and has frequent meetings through Zoom to maintain a connection with students. She wants to be able to support mentees in these difficult times by letting them know that they can reach her any time if they are having any problems. 

“The Puente Project has honestly helped me so much this year when we went remote. Even though I couldn’t see my mentees or my Puentista family physically, they helped me create a bond with them through Zoom,” Benites said. “You can feel the love when you talk to one another, and I think that’s important now that we are all practicing social distancing. Knowing that you have a group of people that are as goal-oriented as you and that are going through it as well shows the closeness and love that everyone gives each other.”

That kind of support was obvious, Benites said, when Puente hosted its first Latinx RASA graduation in May. Graduating and transferring Puente students joined the event through Zoom and Facebook live. Students and their families decorated their houses, and graduating students wore their Puente Stripes, which they receive as they move on to a four-year college. Benites said she hopes that Puente can host an event like that again next May.

“They were very happy that they got to have a goodbye and a celebration for completing their transfer.” said Benites. “I cried after because it was hard to see our students work so hard and not be able to get a graduation. A lot of our students are first in their family to ever graduate, so we took action very quickly, and we had three weeks to plan the whole graduation. So when it happened it was so beautiful.”

For more information about events and resources from the Puente Project:

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