Last Update: Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Project GRAD Helps Students Move on to College PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 04:32

Andres Reyna and Jose Catalan, both 18, are headed to UC San Diego to study biochemistry and mechanical engineering, respectively. Omar Vasquez, 17, will attend CSUN to study computer software engineering.

They are all graduates of San Fernando High School (SFHS), who are moving on to college this fall, thanks in part to Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams), a program designed to significantly increase the number of students at SFHS attending and succeeding in college. As part of the program, students get help in filling out college and financial aid applications and applying for scholarships.

On Saturday, May 31, 135 SFHS seniors who completed Project GRAD’s rigorous college readiness program and earned a scholarship, were recognized during a special celebration in North Hollywood.

For Reyna, who lives in Pacoima, the program not only helped him apply to college, it also gave him an idea of what to expect when he gets there. He was among the students who spent three weeks at a college setting during summer, getting a feel for the college experience.

Reyna went to Mount St. Mary’s College in the summer of 2013. “I feel more confident now. I’m not as worried as I would have been about being away from home and going to college,” he said.

Catalan took classes at Los Angeles Valley College and UCLA.

“I learned about various topics. It gave me a whole new vision. In my speech class I learned to speak in front of people and it really helped me with my english classes,” Catalan said.

“If it wasn’t for Project GRAD, I wouldn’t be as successful as I am.”

That level of success is something Project GRAD, which serves four middle schools and four high schools in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, tries to instill in all of its students according to Ford Roosevelt, president and CEO.

“They get very intense, oneon- one counseling. We also have advisors at the high school who offer coaching and mentoring to help develop social and emotional skills and help them navigate the difficulties of living in an urban setting,” Roosevelt said.

“When they leave high school, many of our students don’t always know how to navigate the challenges of college education. We’re embedding a vision and model in them that ‘I can do this.’”

And it’s not just help for students. Parents taking part in Project GRAD can receive directions on how to support students in their aspirations and also “how to let go”, Roosevelt said.

“For many parents, that’s a big challenge,” he said.

Students who participate in the program are required to maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA, pass their A through G education requirements and attend two summer institutes.

At the end of high school, students earn a $2,000 scholarship spread out over the four years of their college.

Roosevelt admits that is not enough for the high cost of college today, but said the program helps students apply for additional scholarships and financial aid.

“Our goal is for them to graduate with as little loan debt as possible,” he said.

Catalan, who lives in San Fernando, said he was able to get a few scholarships with this help. But what he liked most about the program is the help he could always get, whatever challenge he faced.

“They helped me to stay consistent with my work and keep my goal of going to college. They made me understand what were the steps to get to college. It would have been so much more difficult to get there if it wasn’t for them,” he said.

Vasquez, who lives in Panorama City, echoes that.

“They offer advice, they constantly make sure you’re doing good. Without them, I wouldn’t be as prepared as I am right now,” said the adolescent who is the first in his family to go to college.

While Project GRAD has helped thousands of students achieve their dream of attending college, finishing their education is a different story. Only 40 percent of Project GRAD students have been able to graduate from college.

“It’s not what we want and we’re working to change that,” Roosevelt said.