RICHMOND -- Geramani Martin, 16, and Quelane "Star" Levi, 15, had never been on a plane until last month. After their first ride, they described it the same way: "like a roller coaster."
The two Kennedy High School students were part of a group of five Richmond girls sent to Spelman College in Atlanta for a two-week, pre-college SAT training program. For each of them, and most of the other girls in the group, it was the farthest they'd been from home. Although the experience overall was positive, it was not always easy.
"The first few days, I, uh," Levi says, pausing for a moment.
Martin interjects: "You cried." All of the girls burst into giggles.
Levi did cry the first couple of days, but she said it wasn't because of fear. It was because the program was demanding and overwhelming. The daily schedule, which included classes ranging from advanced English to instructions on dating, required full accountability from the girls. There were no family members to help navigate this new world, and it didn't help that classes went until almost 9 p.m. every day.
"Eventually, she will be 18, on her own and away from the family," Levi's aunt, Demika Williams, said. "This was a good foundation because it taught her how she's supposed to structure and schedule her time while in school."
The program, run by Spelman, was available to the five teens due to For Richmond, a Chevron-sponsored nonprofit organization tasked in part with improving the quality of education in Richmond. These five were part of a larger cohort that the nonprofit sent to colleges across the country over the summer to broaden their horizons regarding where it's possible to go after high school.
Kyra Worthy, For Richmond's executive director, said the program targeted high-achieving black and Latino students in West Contra Costa County and then helped those who were interested apply for pre-selected options across the country. The nonprofit hosted "application parties" where students applied for the various pre-college programs and provided support to parents and students nervous about going far away.
The goal, Worthy said, is to increase enrollment and graduation rates for Richmond's black and Latino youths.
"I wanted them to see what other kids (who) looked like them were doing, that they were doing great things," Worthy said about why they targeted an all-female, historically black college for more than half of the students in the program to attend.
"It really got me thinking about moving away for college," said Izabel Rodriguez, a 16-year-old who also attends Kennedy High School. "And after this experience, it seems more like a possibility -- and something I'd really enjoy."
Not everyone felt the same way. Ciara Dossman, a 16-year-old from El Cerrito High School who lives in Richmond, said that while she enjoyed the experience, moving away for school isn't for her. "I think I want to stay home," she said. "I'm not sure I want to be so far away from my family."
Despite the highs, and lows, each of the teens said they left the program a little changed. For Dossman, it was meeting people from all over the country for the first time.
Rodriguez said after the experience she is seriously considering attending a historically black school. All of the girls said they learned how to write a better essay per SAT standards.
"I got a more realistic picture of college," Martin said, and now she knows she (mostly) enjoys planes.