BURLINGAME (KPIX) — College can be a struggle for first-generation students and students of color. Earvin Buckner experienced the process first hand, and now he’s determined to help others navigate higher education.

Like Alberto Filho, who is currently planning for college.

“My dream school is Berkeley,” declared Filho.” UC Berkeley!”

The 17-year old Burlingame High School senior has been filling out applications, working on recommendations and a personal essay. At his side is Earvin Buckner, the school’s counseling department chair and co-leader of its first generation club.

Both are resources for students like Filho who need additional support. Prior to the pandemic, Buckner and another educator at BHS helped to expand the school’s first-gen program to include juniors, a move that bumped up participation.

And now with Zoom allowing for online meetings, the program’s been able to reach even more students.

“Giving surface information on the different systems — The UC, the CSU, community colleges, private schools — to get them interested,” said Buckner, explaining the process.

Buckner knows firsthand that interest in an education system can be difficult to navigate. He was born in Santa Clara County in 1992. His parents split up when he was in grade school, leading his single working mom to make a heart-wrenching decision.

She sent Buckner to live in Guatemala with her parents. His return to the Bay Area after seven years of academically rigorous private schooling in another country was a difficult one.

“It was definitely a cultural shock,” recalled Buckner. “Your know the rigor of the classes were different, just overall expectation of the academics of the school that we were at.”

Buckner found himself straddling two worlds. Back in Guatemala, he was the American kid, and in the U.S. he was the kid who showed up to junior high school dressed in suit so to speak. Or at least a tie.

“I had a cardigan, shiny shoes, the pants, so that look and just the very first day,” remembered Buckner. “I’m like ‘Oh that’s not how you do it here.'”

With support from family, community and Students Rising Above, Buckner figured out how to fit in — and excel — in high school, college and graduate school.

He eventually landed at Burlingame High School where students like Filho find Buckner’s commitment a comfort.

“Mr. Buckner is very calm and patient and also kind,” said Filho. “He always there to help me.”

For Buckner, seeing his students succeed is a source of pride, as he celebrates his own achievement: receiving tenure at age 29. Buckner was grateful for the honor.

“Thank you. Thank you to the board,” said Buckner of the honor and achievement. “I am extremely thankful for all the opportunities I have been given. I look forward to many more years in the district.”

Many more years in the district working a job he loves, and helping secure the future of those who share a similar past.

“The best thing is the direct contact with students,” said Buckner of serving others. “Making sure that I am serving them, that I am advocating for them.”