Victor Guevara’s summer – and his long-term prospects – took a turn for the better after he was featured in Counted Out, a recent investigative series on obstacles facing gifted students from low-income homes in North Carolina.
Victor, a 14-year-old who’s about to finish eighth grade at Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Albemarle Road Middle School, has high math scores and grades. But his parents, who immigrated from El Salvador, lack money for costly summer programs and English skills to advocate for advanced opportunities.
That has fallen to school staff and volunteers from Central United Methodist Church. When Victor was featured in the series by The Charlotte Observer and The (Raleigh) News & Observer, he was preparing for ninth grade in an International Baccalaureate magnet program and planning to attend a summer band camp.
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Now he’s going to work with a private math coach and attend a weeklong math-science camp at UNC Greensboro, thanks to readers who took an interest. The series highlighted how low-income students are less likely to get advanced academic opportunities than peers with similar scores but more family resources. And even when they do, they may go without the tutoring, coaching and summer camps that more affluent families often provide their high-achieving children.
Rudene Marlowe of Charlotte, a retired math teacher who coached at the private Charlotte Latin School, called the Observer soon after reading Victor’s story. A teen with math talent needs high-level guidance to reach his potential, she said.
Marlowe has arranged with the church volunteers to start working with Victor as soon as school is out.
“He sounds like a jewel,” Marlowe said, “and to not have anybody working with him one on one is just a crime.”
Mollie James, executive director of the Charlotte-based Bruce Irons Camp Fund, immediately recognized Victor as the kind of student her group tries to support. But most are identified in fourth grade, and the fund had already filled its group of just over 100 students for this summer’s academic enrichment camps.
Just as James finished reading, a student called to say her family was going out of town and she couldn’t attend an arts, science and technology camp at UNC Greensboro. James called the university to ask if the scholarship could be transferred to Victor, and when she got the OK, contacted Louise Woods, the church volunteer working with Victor.
The camp fund would cover the $850 cost and provide transportation to Greensboro; Communities in Schools and the Jewish Community Center lend buses to make sure the lack of a car doesn’t keep bright low-income kids from getting summer enrichment.
Pastor Susan Suarez Webster, who speaks Spanish, explained to Victor’s parents, Victorino Guevara and Maria Villatoro, how their son would benefit from a chance to learn rocketry, biomechanics and other skills. But their son has never been away from home.
“They were a bit anxious,” Victor said Tuesday. He paused. “They were very anxious. But the people at the church helped me change their minds.”
The plan is for Victor to attend the math and science camp in July, then take two weeks of band camp in August. Woods said she just learned that Community School of the Arts will provide a scholarship for the band camp, and East Mecklenburg High, where he’ll start classes in August, will loan Victor a trumpet.
Victor is soft-spoken, but he says he’s eager for his summer adventures.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said, “and I’m glad that it happened.”