MEET OUR STUDENTS: Kiana Peralta: Where Dreams Defy Barriers

Eighteen-year-old freshman Kiana Peralta has struggled to become all that was forbidden by her environment. Barely five feet tall and a perpetual smiler, she has endured hunger and homelessness, a lifetime of evictions, yet in her eyes, poverty and a positive outlook are not contradictions in terms.

Peralta said she was always happiest in school: “I tried to stay active in as many activities as possible so I wouldn’t have to think about life at home.” There were times when the household was without heat or electricity and Kiana would have to hurry home after school to get her homework done before dark.

In her sophomore year at Central High School, she developed a love of poetry inspired by her English teacher. “We read a lot of Langston Hughes,” she said, “and our final grade was based on our participation in a poetry slam that my teacher organized.”

She was also made captain of her high school debate team and won Best Debater of 2012, along with Top Speaker Award for 2012 by the Rhode Island Debate League. She was leader of the yearbook committee and senior class president, and she taught Latin dance at Gilbert Stuart for a few hours each week to earn money to feed the family.

“Kiana immediately stood out for me,” said Marianne Gianfrancesco, RIC’s associate director of the Early Enrollment Program (EEP), who came to Peralta’s English class to talk about EEP. “Kiana came up to me after class and thanked me for visiting her school. I asked her if she was planning to further her education beyond high school, and she said, ‘Oh, yes, I’m going to college. I’m going to be a social worker.’”

Gianfrancesco invited Peralta to Rhode Island College for a tour of the campus. She also recommended Peralta for RIC’s Preparatory Enrollment Program (PEP). PEP is offered to a select number of low-income, first-generation Rhode Island students in need of academic support. Right around the time Peralta was accepted into the program, her family was served another eviction notice. 

“With PEP, I have full tuition for a year, a place to stay and food,” she said. “And even more, in PEP you do a six-week program over the summer that prepares you for that transition from high school to college. I took a first-year writing course, a financial literacy course and a social welfare and family course. The last one was great because it connected to my major.”

Peralta is double majoring in social work and political science. She wants to become a school social worker in an urban area to help students like herself. “Most people who overcome major hurdles in their life met someone who helped them. I want to be that someone,” she said.

This involved freshman performs spoken word at RIC’s Open Mic Nights and was recently crowned Miss HUDO 2013 by the Hispanic United Development Organization.