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Latest VISTA success story headed to Middlebury College in Vermont

May 30th, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Jerry Romano is not afraid to blaze a trail.

Romano, the first in his family to complete high school, will be the first to attend college when he enrolls at Middlebury College this fall on a full scholarship boosted by a West Side program partnered with Baptist Child & Family Services named VISTA.

Since VISTA began two years ago, all graduating students in the program —five in 2007 and eight this year – have been accepted into universities and been awarded a total of $570,000 in scholarships.

The Vermont institution is one of the elite universities in the country and is ranked the fifth best college in America by U.S. News and World Report.

Despite not graduating themselves, Romano’s parents always encouraged him to attend college but it wasn’t until he met Maria Fernandez that he considered going to school outside of San Antonio.

Fernandez founded the VISTA, which encourages students on the West Side — where high school drop out rates sometimes approach 50% — to attend college, especially if no one in their families has before. VISTA partners with Baptist Child and Family Services and the agency’s Guadalupe Street Coffee House.

“She [Fernandez] is the one who encouraged me to leave San Antonio and Texas and apply elsewhere to keep my options open,” Romano said.

Romano’s parents support his plans to look outside the city and state for schools, which Romano appreciates. “I have spoken to many other students and it is very interesting to see how many of their parents don’t want them to move away,” said Romano. “I can’t say the same about my parents and I am grateful for the encouragement.”

With that, Romano began looking for colleges with stellar language departments, since he plans to major in international studies and has a personal goal of mastering 10 languages.

Currently, Romano plans to use his education at Middlebury to one day teach in China and ultimately work for the U.N.  He believes the diversity at this college will help him decide his future.

Fernandez has no doubts that Romano will succeed in whatever career choice he makes. “Students like Jerry will make it wherever they go because they truly like to discover,” she said.

Fernandez plans to take Romano to Middlebury this summer to tour the campus, since he was interviewed for his scholarship by a local Middlebury alum and has yet to visit the school.

While it will be hard for Romano’s parents to see him leave, they know it’s for the best. “We’re just giving him the opportunity to do what he wants,” said Margaret Romano, Jerry’s mother. “He has his mind set.”

She had to drop out of school at age 14 when her mother died, leaving her to care for her brothers and sisters. She insisted her siblings stay in school.  “I made sure all of them graduated,” she said. “Later I was able to get training to be a medical assistant.”

Though still young, Romano looks forward to the day when he can share his story with students. “Whenever I have a chance to come back to San Antonio,” he said, “I will enjoy speaking to the students about allowing their dreams to flourish because anything is possible.”

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