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Catholic Education Foundation provides opportunities to underprivileged youths

March 16, 2009|Carla Rivera
  • Bianca Beltran, left, and Jessica Williams were among the 450 high school seniors honored at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Sunday. The two attend private high schools on scholarships from the Catholic Education Foundation.
Bianca Beltran, left, and Jessica Williams were among the 450 high school… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

The way Ivan Salcido sees it, he could easily have followed the path taken by many of his friends from his Boyle Heights neighborhood who fell into gangs, got hooked on drugs or dropped out of school.

The difference for him, he thinks, was attending Cathedral High School, a college-prep all-boys Catholic school northeast of downtown whose graduates attend many of the most prestigious universities in the country.

With his single mother supporting two other children in addition to his grandmother, Ivan could only attend the school because of a tuition award from the Catholic Education Foundation.

The foundation this year provided more than $11 million in scholarship awards to 9,000 students in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Like Ivan, most are minority, low-income students who increasingly make up the profile of Catholic education in urban centers throughout the nation.

The awards for high school students average about $2,000 annually and cover about 40% of school tuition.

"The tuition assistance actually helped out a lot because if I didn't have it, I'd be going to a public school," said Ivan, 18. "Here, everyone is close, the teachers really care about you, and we get one-on-one time."

On Sunday, Ivan and 450 fellow seniors were honored at downtown's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels at a reception attended by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony. Virtually all of the students will be going to college; many will be the first in their families to do so.

A recent study by Loyola Marymount University of students who received the tuition awards found that 98% of them graduated from high school and 98% of those graduates continued on to college. The dropout rates for some Los Angeles public high schools, by comparison, are as high as 55%.

Ivan's mother, Alma Salcido, who stopped working to take care of his grandmother, who has Alzheimer's disease, always pushed him to do well in school and keep up his grades.

He said the school, which charges about $7,500 in tuition, taught him the values of being a good man and a good citizen. When he graduates this spring, he expects to attend the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

"I do video production, and I'm also a reporter and cameraman doing news for the school," he said. "I help out with the school plays, filming productions. I don't think I'd be doing this if I were at any other school."

Since its inception in 1987, the foundation has provided more than 97,000 tuition awards, based on financial need and regardless of religious background. But Catholic schools are in crisis, with many closing because of declining facilities and enrollment.

In addition, the recession and market conditions have eroded the foundation's assets, jeopardizing its ability to provide as much support next year, said Robert Smith, the foundation president.

"We also see that our donors are strapped, even as there is more need among families," Smith said. "We have to do the best we can, calling on more people and trying to get out awareness of the product we have and results we're getting in the schools."

Bianca Beltran, a senior at Santa Clara High School in Oxnard, is waiting to hear from several colleges, including UC Santa Barbara, Yale and her top choice, Columbia in New York. She wants to major in international relations and foreign languages and dreams of an internship at the United Nations and one day directing an agency such as UNICEF.

She considers herself privileged to be in this position. She attended a private, secular elementary school. But several family setbacks, including her parents' separation, changed her life.

With finances strained, Bianca thought that she would attend public schools, before she received the Catholic foundation scholarship.

If she had been at any other school, she thinks she would have been unable to deal with her challenges.

"There are plenty of good things at Santa Clara like the academics and the sports," Bianca said. "But it's the sense of family I get here that's great. Emotionally, when my family was going through hard times, the school, the teachers, the principal, everyone was so supportive."

Bianca's mother, Marisela Bueno, said the Catholic campus, which charges about $6,000 per year, is a safe haven in a community where she said many public schools have police patrolling their campuses and have eliminated lockers so that students can't hide drugs or weapons.

"That's why the tuition assistance has absolutely been a tremendous help for our family," said Bueno, who works as a customer service manager for a manufacturing company.

Jessica Williams said it was the strong, faith-based values that impressed her at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, where tuition is $5,350 for Catholic students. Principal Erick Rubalcava was her first religion teacher, and she is still close to him, she said.

"I came here and everything changed," said Jessica, 17, who wants to attend UCLA and become a child psychologist. "I have a better relationship with God. It's easy to talk to the teachers here about anything. They really care about you."

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carla.rivera@latimes.com

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