Red Bank High offers support, opportunities for ‘dreamers’

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A safe haven inside Red Bank Regional High School continues to offer the tools for success to Latino students.

A Jan. 17 panel discussion which zeroed in on the topic of immigration served as fertile ground for a further conversation as it appears in the greater Red Bank community.

At present, 33 percent of the high school’s population is Hispanic, according to school officials. The three towns that send their students to the high school are Red Bank, Little Silver and Shrewsbury Borough. The high school, which is located in Little Silver, also enrolls students from other municipalities on a tuition basis.

On Jan. 23, the topic of immigration prompted Marianne Kligman, the high school’s public information officer, to compare immigrants at the school to “ping pong balls.” She said the rights of immigrants in the United States are routinely administered and retracted at the federal level.

“These (Latino) kids don’t have the same lives as everyone else,” Kligman said. They have to work. They have to help support their families. They have a very different life than the average American teenager.”

Continuing the dialogue, Marisol Mondaca, School Based Youth Services Program Counselor, and Suzanne Keller, Supervisor of The Source, discussed the supportive nature the high school community offers to students of different cultural backgrounds. 

The Source at Red Bank Regional High School is a school-based youth services program designed to help young people navigate their adolescent years, finish their education, obtain skills leading to employment or continuing education, and graduate healthy and drug-free. Its mission is “to remove all obstacles that impeded the success of young people in our community,” according to high school’s website.

Mondaca said The Source is involved with the RBR Dreamers, which is an association of Latino students in the high school who offer support to one another. The RBR Dreamers is in its third year.

Originally, graduates of Red Bank Regional High School initiated a similar “dreamer” program at Brookdale Community College, Mondaca said.

Dreamer, in the context of the immigration issue, is defined as a person who has lived in the United States without official authorization since coming to the country as a minor.

Three years ago, Mondaca said, students pushed for the RBR Dreamers’ inclusion at the high school after Latino students said they would benefit from scholarship opportunities and information that pertains to higher education.

“(Former) students agreed that if we have something in the high school like this, maybe things would be easier for Latino students,” Mondaca said, noting some former students expressed feelings of isolation before the program’s implementation.

Mondaca said the role of a “dreamer” extends beyond the boundaries of the high school. She said the students combine community, social advocacy, culture and activism to serve others. The assistance includes serving as translators for the parents of elementary school pupils when the parents interact with their child’s teachers.

The high school students also provide free tutoring for children in the primary school, Mondaca said, noting that many of the high school students are bilingual and can assist children who may only speak Spanish.

“We do a little bit of everything, but we originally began as a safe space,” Mondaca said. “I think it’s great that Red Bank has created this welcoming space where you are accepted and embraced.”

Asked how the dreamer group supports the self-esteem of its participants, Mondaca referenced a colorful flier that read “Dreamers Welcome.” She said the flier is placed in classrooms throughout the school.

“Even just walking in a room and you see the flier, you feel like ‘Oh, I am welcome here. They know what dreamers are,’ ” Mondaca said. “Having a group that is called the RBR Dreamers makes (students) understand they don’t need to hide anymore … This helps students be heard.

“At the beginning, a lot of people did not know what dreamers were. There was a lot of confusion … We are really in front of the whole immigration thing,” she continued.

Scholarships from the Andrew Kroon Memorial Scholarship have been awarded to college-bound students who are members of the RBR Dreamers.

Keller said, “We notice Latino students who have been working very hard to succeed in high school and go on to college. When these students found out they did not have access to loans and financial aid because they are not citizens, the students became very depressed.

“At the same time, a very generous benefactor came to our superintendent and offered to fund one Spanish student to go to college. Fast forward 13 years, we have continued the program. We didn’t just send one student, we have sent more than 65 students to college through the Andrew Kroon Memorial Scholarship Fund,” Keller said.

Keller said a high school fashion show is held each year to help raise money and send more Latino students to college.

“We fund the chosen students all the way through Brookdale Community College. Mr. Kroon is now funding students to go on to four-year colleges. He gives the students $5,000 per year. Between that, a student’s financial aid and other scholarship opportunities I find for them, the students are able to continue their higher education,” Keller said.