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79 low-income students honored tonight for completing 10,000 Degrees summer institute program

For nearly 80 North Bay high school students from low-income families, a college education will become a reality this evening when they participate in the 10,000 Degrees' Summer Institute program awards ceremony.

One of those students, Healdsburg High School graduate Omar Flores, said he didn't think his family could afford to send him to San Diego State University to study criminal justice.

"I had no idea what to do about college," he said. "10,000 Degrees helped me the whole way, applying for college and finding scholarships. If it wasn't for them, I would be totally clueless," he said.

Flores is one of a host of graduating seniors from high schools in Marin, Sonoma and Solano counties will attend colleges and junior colleges throughout the country. But many will stay closer to home and attend Sonoma State University and Dominican University, which partnered with 10,000 Degrees for the Summer Institute program.

Others will attend local junior colleges said Erica Harrold, 10,000 Degrees' communications manager. Many of the students will be the first in their family to attend college, and 84 percent of them are expected to complete college within six years compared to the national average of 54 percent, Harrold said.

More than 500 students have participated in the 10,000 Degrees Summer Institute Program since 2000.

10,000 Degrees, formerly the Marin Education Fund, has been providing college access programs, scholarships and financial support for 30 years.

The partnership with Sonoma State and Dominican University includes an intensive five-day dormitory experience with workshops on choosing a college, study habits, researching and applying for financial aid and scholarships.

 Students work throughout the high school year with staff and volunteer mentors, some of them former 10,000 Degrees students, Harrold said.

"It was like having a whole new family," said Maura Espinoza, a graduate of San Marin High School in Marin County, who will attend Santa Rosa Junior College. "I felt like everyone had a similar experience to me and it made me feel so welcome. It's really cool," she said. The awards presentation honoring the graduating seniors is at the Pickleweed Community Center, 50 Canal Street in San Rafael between 5:30 and 7 p.m.

By Bay City News Service.