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Ventura County

4th-Graders Getting a Jump on College

Pepperdine program hands $500 savings bonds to low-income Latino children who have what it takes for higher education.

November 17, 2002|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

More than 60 low-income elementary school students from Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties are set today to receive scholarships aimed at lifting them out of their poor neighborhoods and putting them on track to attend college.

The fourth-graders will be handed $500 savings bonds as the highlight of a mariachi concert at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza hosted by the Pepperdine University Hispanic Council.

The concert, which raises about $60,000 a year for Latino students on scholarship at the Malibu university, has also become a showcase for the educational campaign on behalf of younger students -- kids who have what it takes to go to college but might not have higher learning on the radar screen.

"You can't start talking to these kids about college in ninth and 10th grade; it's too late," said Israel Rodriguez, director of the Hispanic Affairs office at Pepperdine and creator of the Educational Scholarship Fund.

"The value of the bond itself is not much," Rodriguez added. "But the idea is to get them at an early age to start thinking about college and show them they have the same opportunities as everyone else to go for that brass ring."

Savings bonds will go to 63 students at schools including Wilson Elementary in Santa Ana, Sunkist Elementary in La Puente and El Sereno Elementary in Los Angeles. Nearly half of the scholarships will go to Ventura County fourth-graders at schools in Oxnard and Santa Paula.

Those students include 9-year-old Griselda Garcia. Along with her farm-worker parents, she will don her Sunday best and march up on stage at the Thousand Oaks auditorium to receive her award. She was nominated for the scholarship by Mike Stalvey, her teacher at Ramona Elementary School in Oxnard's La Colonia district.

Asked at the start of the school year to recommend a student with good grades and leadership qualities, Stalvey said he thought immediately of Griselda.

He had a conference with her parents last week, and both were thrilled about the honor.

"It's really a terrific program," Stalvey said. "It plants the seed to get students and their parents thinking about their future."

Rodriguez, who for 24 years served as Pepperdine's financial aid director before launching the university's office of Hispanic Affairs in 1995, said the program is all about planting seeds for the future.

He said he was alarmed to learn that fewer than 20% of Latino high school graduates go on to college, and half of those students do not obtain degrees.

Rodriguez and others with Pepperdine's Hispanic Council began holding the annual mariachi concert in 1996 to raise scholarship money for Pepperdine students. Two years ago, the council launched its initiative in the elementary schools, providing nearly 50 educational savings bonds in 2000 and about the same number last year.

Rodriguez said he raises money for that effort by soliciting donations from companies and private donors. And he has set up a system to monitor the progress of recipients through high school.

He also provides tickets to the mariachi concert for recipients and their parents, calling the students on stage one by one to the roar of the crowd.

"You should see their faces light up when they are honored for being good students," Rodriguez said. "That's the highlight of the concert."

McKevett Elementary School Principal Sheryl Misenhimer plans to be there to see it happen.

Two fourth-graders at her Santa Paula school, Luis Cisneros and Sarai de Alejandro, are set to receive scholarships, and Misenhimer wants to be on hand to snap photos and lead the cheers.

"When any child works as hard as these kids do and gets recognized for it, I'm going to be there," Misenhimer said. "It gives them stars in their eyes, it gives them the dream."

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