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Teaching Children to Reach for Higher Education
Kids to College program will help promote education and financial aid throughout minority communities.

May 4, 2006

Sixth-graders at a dozen elementary schools in Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana and Garden Grove are learning about college, how to prepare for it and what to expect, thanks to a program called Kids to College.

The Sallie Mae Fund is promoting a $1 million campaign designed to raise awareness of higher education and financial aid options to minority communities throughout the state. The campaign is funding a series of education-focused initiatives, including the Kids to College partnership between the Cal State University system and the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a nonprofit, policy research organization based at of Southern California.

Kids to College will be funded for three years as a pilot program. Through the partnership, Cal Fullerton and Cal State Los Angeles are helping the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute implement the Kids to College curriculum.

Beatriz E. Tapia, campus coordinator of educational partnerships, has begun facilitating teacher-training workshops for sixth-grade teachers in the Fullerton, Garden Grove Unified, Santa Ana Unified and Anaheim City school districts. Corina A. Espinoza, director of the Kids to College program, is teaching the six-week curriculum.

Elementary school teachers are taking what they learn and presenting lessons on career exploration and research, study skills and college vocabulary. By the time the pupils arrive on campus, they will have been exposed to such terms as "degree," "campus," "dormitory," "university" and "major."

Nearly 1,200 sixth-graders will be visiting Cal State Fullerton on May 17, as well as June 2, 9, 14 and 16. While here, Tapia said, students will tour the campus and participate in an interactive activity facilitated by faculty, students or staff from the various colleges. They will attend a workshop on admission requirements and will be treated to lunch and a gift bag filled with CSUF pencils, book markers, a T-shirt, a financial-aid comic book and other goodies.

The program's primary objectives are to show students and families in low-income and underrepresented communities that higher education is within their reach and to explain how they can begin preparing now for academic life beyond high school.

"I think this is a great program," Tapia said. "The goal of the three-year pilot program is to serve 1,000 students in the first year, 1,250 in the second year and 1,500 in the third. We have already surpassed our first-year goal, and the interest expressed by the local school districts has been overwhelming. There is a definite interest and need for early outreach programs, and this is something that has been articulated by school administrators and teachers."

Tapia said that some sixth-grade teachers participating in the program told her that many of their students live fewer than 10 miles from Cal State Fullerton but have never been on the campus.

"When asked students how many had thought about going to college, most did raise their hands," Tapia said. "There is a definite interest in higher education, but the information about how to get into and pay for college is not always made readily available. When it is made available, it is often too late for students who, as we know, need to begin planning early and need to be enrolled in the right classes beginning as early as the seventh grade."

"We assume that everyone knows about the opportunity a college education provides and that's not true," said Silas H. Abrego, associate vice president for student affairs. "This program allows us to start exposing students to college at an early age. The earlier we expose them to higher education, the better."

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