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Business Volunteers Keep Students' Dreams Alive by Being Role Models

March 19, 1992|MARY ANNE PEREZ | SPECIAL TO NUESTRO TIEMPO

Panaderia Mexico at Florence Avenue Elementary School in South-Central Los Angeles may not produce the sweetbreads found in other bakeries, but its founder--a volunteer with the Hispanic Professional Roundtable--hopes that youngsters get a lot more out of it than pan dulce.

The project, similar to other ventures started by members of the Hispanic Professional Roundtable in six Los Angeles-area elementary and junior high schools, shows students how to start a business and make a profit.

Other volunteers show students the pay scales of workers from dishwashers to attorneys, and how much schooling each would require. Some adults sit and talk with the students, developing a relationship over the school year and drumming home the importance of higher education and professional careers.

All the while, these Latino professionals, many of whom come from neighborhoods and families just like the students they are trying to help, hope to keep dreams from being snuffed out by the education system that they survived.

"We can relate to the children because we are seeing ourselves all over again," said Alejandro Jimenez, an attorney with Hennigan & Mercer in Los Angeles, who helped start the Roundtable and coordinates the role models program that sends professionals into the classroom. Now, 40 professionals volunteer in the schools.

"It's really important to us because we really need role models at the professional level," said Santa Calderon, assistant principal at the 1,200-student Florence Avenue School. "They can say: 'I made it into college and I came from your neighborhood.' "

Jimenez, 30, started first grade with no English skills and moved through seven elementary schools before finishing eighth grade. His parents were not highly educated, and he was told more than once from teachers and others that he would not make much of himself, Jimenez recalled.

Yet, with some encouragement along the way, he received his undergraduate degree from UCLA and his law degree from Harvard University.

Hispanic Roundtable President Jesse M. Jauregui claims much of the same beginnings as Jimenez. He went on to attend Yale University and then Loyola University and is an attorney at the law firm of Ochoa & Sillas.

The membership of the Hispanic Professional Roundtable is made up of 11 organizations, including associations of doctors, engineers, business executives, lawyers and other professionals.

Jeannine Jaramillo, who is married to Jimenez and is an appraiser-trainee with the Los Angeles County assessor's office, said the fourth-graders at Florence Avenue Elementary had not thought much about careers or what it takes to work in certain fields. For example, she said some believed that one of the most prestigious jobs is a parking attendant.

After gathering information on salaries and the required education of different careers, their ideas about professions changed. "At first, they didn't know what I meant when I said career ," Jaramillo said. "At the end, they said: 'This is what I want to do.' "

The bakeries at Florence Avenue Elementary were the brainchild of Juan Salcedo, an accountant with Arga's, a Mexican food company. Teacher Christine Ferreira said that, through Salcedo, the students in her combined fourth- and fifth-grade bilingual class are learning that the math they study in the textbook has a real application.

The students started up two competing businesses, Panaderia Mexico and Florence Avenue Panaderia, and have learned how much they need to invest, how much it costs to buy the ingredients and how much money they need to make a profit.

"There's always something you can teach the kids," Salcedo said. "I don't know the direct effect. That might not be today, but they know at least the (basics). I'll put the time in as long as they want me there."

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