Program helps low-income high school kids prepare for college

Marin Independent Journal

Program helps low-income high school kids prepare for college

by Don Speich

It began with a bunch of Marin high school juniors and seniors trying to move a large ball from one point to another without touching it. It is aimed at ending with the students, most of whom are minorities from low-income backgrounds, being the first in their families to go to college.

It is the Marin Education Fund’s seventh Summer Application Institute and it got under way Tuesday at Dominican University with games intended to get some 50 students representing most of the county’s high schools to know each other. They began four days of intense instruction in a variety of subjects aimed at helping them choose a college, get accepted and succeed.

Games instructor Chris Gilstrap told a group of students meeting on the lawn outside of the university’s library their task was to move the ball in any way they chose 15 or so yards without touching it. Their solution: two lanyards on which the ball was to be rolled, a method that resulted in repeated laughs as it repeatedly failed.

What succeeded, however, was getting acquainted. Laughter was followed by conversations about what the week held in store, and why the students wanted to be there.

Sixteen-year-old Raven Griffin of Marin City, a junior at Tamalpais High School, said she wasn’t sure a few months ago that she wanted to go to college.

“Primarily, I didn’t think I was college material,” she said.

But she went on a campus tour sponsored by the Marin Education Fund, visiting Chico State University and the University of the Pacific in Stockton. She found out what the academic requirements were and realized she could go to college. Raven said she is hoping to go somewhere out of state.

Fadi Malouf, 17, a senior at San Rafael High, said, “My dad went to college but did not finish. I want to finish what he started.”

Malouf hopes to go to San Jose State University and then to UOP’s dental school in San Francisco.

During the week, students stay in Dominican dorms and participate in writing clinics, receive instruction in writing college application essays, use computers to find out about college and university requirements, meet alumni of 12 universities from throughout the country, visit several area college campuses and study various aspects of college admission tests.

Prior to this week’s program, said Dawn Anderson, a college specialist for the education fund, the students took practice ACT and SAT tests provided by a private company that prepares students for taking the examination. Students will be informed this week about how they did and what they need to do to improve before taking the tests later this year.

Program officials said the institute has a 98 percent success rate at sending low-income, under-represented students to college.

Kim Mazzuca, president of the Marin Education Fund, said her organization “believes that everyone should have a chance at college. The (institute) has been amazingly successful at helping deserving students have a chance at college that they otherwise would not.”

This year, more than 100 students applied, and after a selection process 52 students – many from Tamalpais, San Rafael and Novato high schools – were selected.

Students in the program received a stipend of $100 and an additional $1,000 is provided for students who participate in a yearlong mentoring program.

The mentor provides help and advice during a student’s last year in high school and first year in college.

David G. Behrs, Dominican’s associate provost for university relations, said this year the school is offering scholarships to institute graduates who matriculate at Dominican. They include one $27,770 full-tuition scholarship and two half-tuition scholarships.