by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Alfonso Rodriguez, Ryan Ruelas (center)
They may not share the same parents, but they are BROS. In fact, there are more than 300 BROS attending high schools throughout Anaheim.
BROS sounds like the name of a street gang, but it’s not.
In their matching BROS T-shirts, the teens explain that they belong to a unique band of brothers who are bound for college and success in life.
“Being a BRO is something good to be involved in,” says Jaime Villa. “It betters you.”
BROS, which is not an acronym, is somewhat like a fraternity, say students. Their goal is to support one another in the quest to graduate from college and become contributing members of society. BROS is not just for high achievers; members range from English learners to students with special needs to honors students.
It’s not your typical fraternity. BROS comes from a community in the shadow of Disneyland that is 98 percent Latino, where gangs, violence, drugs and poverty are common. Many BROS learned English as a second language. Some are undocumented and living in fear of deportation.
Ryan Ruelas, the Anaheim High School history and psychology teacher who created the BROS program, understands the challenges Latino males face in his community.
“I’m an Anaheim boy who witnessed a lot of stuff growing up.”
In 2009, Ruelas was invited to attend a conference at UCLA on the topic: “Why are Latino males not going to college — and why are those who go to college often not successful?” The Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association (ASTA) member found more questions than answers, but decided he was going to do something about the problem.
“I decided to form a fraternity at Anaheim High School. The first year we had 65 solid participants. Every year we’ve grown larger, and now we are at about 300 students. It’s been such a success that our district recently started other BROS chapters at Katella High School and Loara High School in Anaheim.”
The club helps close achievement gaps, keep students off the streets, improve the local community and overturn stereotypes. But most importantly, says Ruelas, BROS is preparing participants for college.
They take field trips to CSU and UC campuses, paying their own way with fundraising. They interact with Anaheim Alumni Association members who are college graduates. They meet in large groups, as well as by grade level for college planning. Topics include the ACT and SAT exams, the importance of taking AP classes, career planning, goal-setting, how to apply for college, financial aid, and help with writing personal statements for college applications.
“I never thought much about applying past a California State University,” says Gregory Santana. “But I’m going to give the UC schools a shot. I realized I may have been selling myself short when we visited some of the UC campuses.”
Recently the club had an overnight “lock-in” in the Anaheim High School gym, where members played basketball, heard guest speakers and shared stories from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Ruelas describes it as a night of fun, bonding and maturing. BROS seniors met with freshmen and BROS juniors met with sophomores to discuss their plans for the future and how they are going to make it happen.
“When I came to this school, I didn’t know many people,” recalls student Oscar Garcia. “But I found a group of students that had the same values and goals I had. We all want to go to college. We all want to succeed in life. This organization put me on the track of getting into a four-year university. Our advisers constantly stress how important it is to be educated. We have a wider understanding now of the things that are necessary for success, and know there are many more opportunities than earning just a high school diploma.”
Students run BROS, so they develop leadership skills that will be invaluable in college and the working world after they graduate, say Ruelas and BROS co-adviser Alfonso Rodriguez (also an ASTA member).
“I want them to take ownership and responsibility,” says Ruelas.
Indeed they do. The young men perform volunteer work in their community. They have become involved in local politics and advocate for issues they feel are important, such as immigration reform and green energy.
BROS was involved in the Anaheim Beautification Project with state Sen. Lou Correa, helping to spruce up run-down areas and clean up graffiti. They work with a group called Paint Your Heart Out, a volunteer organization devoted to helping low-income, senior, disabled and veteran homeowners preserve their dignity, safety, independence and connections to the community by painting and providing homeowners with essential repairs to maintain their homes.
BROS set up a tutoring program with the feeder elementary schools and middle schools to help younger students struggling with math and science.
Another BROS project was collecting 5,000 signatures and submitting them to the Anaheim City Council so it could become the state’s first P21 City (Partnership for 21st Century Skills). As a P21 City, Anaheim asks schools to ensure access to a curriculum relevant to the world, teach the “four C’s” (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity), and create internships and work experiences for students.
BROS participants have signed up for phone banking and precinct walking to support progressive candidates — especially those who support comprehensive immigration reform for undocumented residents.
“It’s wonderful to see them give back to the community,” says Ruelas.
Rodriguez believes the BROS organization is making a difference.
“Our aim is breaking stereotypes about Latino males,” says the history teacher. “BROS are doing that.”
The teachers plan to follow the progress of students in BROS, now in its fifth year, to see how members succeed academically so they can determine if additional supports are needed.
“We are connecting with kids and supporting our kids and setting expectations for them that are high,” says Rodriguez. “And it’s wonderful to see BROS meeting our expectations.”
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