In the coming weeks, high school students across the country will receive college acceptance or rejection letters. Among this mass of expectant young scholars is a handful of University employees.
Through a partnership with the Providence charter school Academy for Career Exploration — located just two miles from the University — Brown Dining Services currently employs 20 high school juniors and seniors in the Sharpe Refectory and Verney-Woolley dining halls during evenings and weekends.
In order to land this competitive job — fewer than half of the ACE students who apply are offered a position — the students must submit a resume and teacher recommendation to Vanessa Toledo-Vickers, director of operations at ACE.
Students must be in good academic and behavioral standing to be considered, Toledo-Vickers said. “It’s part of (incentivizing) them to have the right behavior at school.”
Toledo-Vickers sends selected students’ resumes to BDS, whose human resources department then completes its standard hiring process.
“They go through an actual hiring process that a large organization uses,” Toledo-Vickers said, adding that the entire experience serves as a lesson in how the job market works.
Keilen Candelier, a senior at ACE, began working with BDS in the fall of her junior year. “I just needed the money,” she said. “It’s minimum wage, (but) I think it’s pretty good pay for what we do,” she said.
Like Candelier, many students from ACE have part-time jobs. “A lot of our kids work to support households,” Toledo-Vickers said. “About 90 to 95 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, which means that they are under the federal poverty line.”
Delaney Vargas, a junior at ACE, began working with BDS in the fall of 2015. “I just really wanted to get a job,” she said.
Vargas and fellow ACE junior Adamary Liranzo share the same class schedule as well as the same after-school shifts at the Ratty, so the two often spend the whole day together. The job “is easy money,” Liranzo said.
The standard after-school shift runs from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., during which time the students on duty restock plates and utensils, refill napkin dispensers and salt and pepper shakers, clean tables, tidy food lines and pitch in with the start of dinner cleanup.
A benefit of working for BDS is that “the hours are easy,” said Jaimy Escobedo, a senior at ACE. After school, “other people work until 10 (p.m.), and I only work until 8 (p.m.),” she said.
“We have a friend who works at Burger King, and she gets home after closing at 11 (p.m.) or 12 (a.m.),” Vargas said.
While Escobedo was initially interested in attending Brown, she didn’t end up applying due to financial reasons. In the fall, she plans on attending the University of New Haven, where she hopes to study music business, she said.
The students at ACE “cannot afford a school like Brown unless they go on a full scholarship, and those are extremely competitive,” Toledo-Vickers said, adding that no ACE graduate has attended Brown since she started working at the school in 2012.
“I think our kids tend not to apply because it’s hard to get the financial aid they would need to actually go,” she said.
Brown states that it is committed to a need-blind admission process. The University fully meets each student’s demonstrated financial need.
While 95 percent of ACE graduates enroll in college, most of them go to the Community College of Rhode Island, said Donna McKenna, the school counselor at ACE. Many of them are first-generation college students, she said.
If offered a full-ride scholarship to Brown, Escobedo said she would come “in a heartbeat.”
“To get to be here for free, and my house is down the street? I could have my Spanish food, and then I could get to take art classes,” she said. Escobedo, like approximately 75 percent of ACE students, comes from a Latinx family.
But for V-Dub worker and ACE senior Miguel Medrano, attending Brown felt out of reach. “I’ve always wanted to come here, (but) I knew I wouldn’t get in,” he said. Medrano didn’t apply to Brown because he thought that “there was no point,” he said. In the fall, Medrano plans to study nursing at CCRI.
In addition to financial and academic barriers, diversity plays a role in dissuading students from applying to the school where they come to work every single week.
ACE senior Jessica Polanco works at the V-Dub, where “the diversity rate … is concerning,” she said. “I don’t see anyone that’s like me.”
Polanco, the daughter of Dominican immigrants, is thinking of attending Providence College in the fall, where she would study political science.
She was interested in applying to Brown but missed the deadline, she said. “I feel like I would never get in because it’s too expensive, and also it’s the Ivy League,” she added.
But even if working for BDS doesn’t motivate students to apply to Brown, it may affect how they think about college in general, Toledo-Vickers said. “It makes (college) a reality for them,” she said. “It exposes them to that environment.”
In addition to allowing students to see life on a college campus, the job also serves as motivation, a number of ACE students said.
“Working here made me realize that you should do something with your life, so you don’t end up working at a place like this,” Liranzo said. “This is okay for now, … (but) if 16-year-olds can do the job that you’re doing, then it doesn’t really require a lot,” she said.
ACE students work alongside full-time BDS employees, whom they refer to as “red shirts” because of the red polos that serve as their uniform.
“I see some of the red shirts that are here, and I don’t want to be that when I’m older,” Candelier said.
For others, the job simply reinforces what they already knew. “You see your parents with dead-end jobs, living paycheck to paycheck, and you know you don’t want to live like that,” Escobedo said.
Escobedo’s father worked as a Providence laborer but is now unemployed. Her mother works as a clerk, and various other family members work in factories, she said.
“The adults at Brown are very much mentors to these kids,” Toledo-Vickers said, adding that the red shirts will often say things to them like, “You don’t want to do this for the rest of your life? Make sure you graduate high school. Make sure you get an education and have a profession.”
Along with the red shirts, ACE students interact with Brown students who dine in the facilities, though there is not a lot of conversation that occurs between these two similarly aged groups.
Students seem to be in dining halls “with one motive — to eat — and everyone else is just invisible unless (they) need help,” Polanco said.
Oftentimes, people don’t realize that they are high school students but assume they are older, full-time employees like the red shirts, Liranzo said.
Next month, Toledo-Vickers will begin the process of promoting the job program at ACE and accepting applications for next year’s BDS workers. “I promote the program widely so the kids who don’t get it know what they have to do to turn it around for the next year,” she said.
September will bring around 20 students from ACE to Brown as BDS workers, but no ACE students will join the University as college students. Of the 38 current seniors at ACE, not one applied to Brown, McKenna said.