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HCC Gateway to College Program Graduates 22nd Class

HOLYOKE — As a freshman and sophomore, Biannca Colflesh was very active in her school community. For the most part, during those two years, she enjoyed Holyoke High School. “It’s supposed to be the best time of your life,” she remembers.

Then, she hit “a few bumps.” By the end of her junior year, she was failing all her classes and pretty much stopped going. “This was unlike me, and I realized I had lost myself,” she said.

With the help of her parents, she found her way to Holyoke Community College (HCC) and its Gateway to College program. Gateway at HCC is part of a national network of programs that put struggling high-school students and dropouts into college classes, where they work toward their high-school diplomas and also collect transferable college credits.

Colflesh was one of 15 HCC Gateway students who graduated from the program on Feb. 1, when she found herself on the stage of the Leslie Phillips Theater, giving a speech to her classmates, family, friends, teachers, and Gateway staff. Thanks to Gateway, Colflesh earned 12 college credits and her diploma from Holyoke High School. She is already enrolled full-time at HCC.

“We are not statistics, and labels don’t define us,” said Natasha Perez of Springfield, another student speaker and new Gateway graduate who had been a high-school dropout. “Here we are doing what everyone thought we couldn’t. Was it a struggle? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. It doesn’t matter how the journey starts; it’s how we finish.”

The 15 new graduates from Holyoke, Springfield, Agawam, Westfield, and West Springfield finished with a total of 159 high-school credits and 115 college credits. They represent the 22nd graduating class since the Gateway program was founded at HCC in 2008. 

They are, from Holyoke: Evan Alicea, Bianna Colflesh, Justin Delgado, Oscar Dilone, Johnathan Hodge-Kennedy, Nathanael Mannering, Jaysha Mejia, Britney Moran, and Soniah Roque; from Springfield: Maralyse Montuori, Natasha Perez, and Jeysha Vega Colon; from Agawam: Rodney Sanders; from Westfield: Gemma Lugo; and from West Springfield: Ryan Stenwick.

With a graduation rate of 76%, HCC’s Gateway program is one of the most successful in the U.S. and a two-time winner of Gateway National’s Excellence Award.

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