After reading about Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s personal journey and her fight to be educated, St. Brendan High School junior Maria Mercado knew she wanted to do something to help those less fortunate receive a college education.
In 2013 Maria formed the Educities Project, a program designed to assist low-income high school students from Hispanic backgrounds and their parents get prepared for the college application process. The name Educities stems from the belief that only through education can we maintain prosperous communities.
In reading Yousafzai’s book, I am Malala, Maria was motivated to look at ways she could help those who are in school and want to continue, but lack the support, direction or finances needed to apply and get into college.
“When I finished reading Malala’s book, I knew I wanted to start some type of program and no one in Miami was filling this gap,” Mercado said.
The main purpose behind Maria’s project is to help spread the message that education can be available to everyone regardless of where you are from, what language you speak or how much money your have.
In the group’s effort to “educate children, change the world” the Educities Project provides free tutoring to students in grades 11 and 12 to help them prepare for the SAT/ACT. English teachers from multiple Miami-Dade schools volunteer by donating their time to proof students’ college essays. Tutors offer their services at discounted prices and are paid via donations from Maria’s family and friends thus far.
Maria and her mom are hoping to create a fund to help better support the project. Free workshops for parents are offered in Spanish to help guide them in the unfamiliar college admissions process. Maria’s mother, Anna Maria Jaramillo, hosted the first workshop in November 2014 at the Doral Library where she presented to 10 families.
“The goal of these workshops is for us to inform parents who are new arrivals to this country and do not speak English about the American high school system and how to help their children continue on towards higher education,” Jaramillo said. “We want them to understand the significance of AP courses and Dual Enrollment while also helping them familiarize with the process of applying for college.”
In order to launch the project and spread the word of the services offered, Maria and her mom turned to friends at Radio Caracol 1260. The station interviewed the St. Brendan High School junior and has sponsored numerous advertisements about the project on the radio.
The Agustin Acosta Show on the Venezuelan radio station Actualidad 1020 also interviewed Maria about the Educites Project.
The need for this service and Maria’s ongoing efforts to meet the demand are catching the attention of community leaders like Dr. Donna Shalala, University of Miami president, and U.S. Rep. Iliana Ros- Lehtinen, both of whom have met with the teen to discuss her project and where it is headed.
And in January Maria was honored by DTRT (Do The Right Thing- Miami) as one of their 10 December winners. DTRT recognizes and rewards Miami youths for their exemplary accomplishments and good deeds through a unique partnership with the City of Miami Police.