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Increasing options Jose Mireles | Sat, Nov 09 2013 12:00 PM

The journey to college starts early. Building a strong foundation of skills like good study habits and daily reading develops in elementary school and makes it easier for students to take on academic challenges of high school and then later in college. The discussion of how to pay for college should also begin early for families—savings, financial aid, scholarships, and loans are all things to learn about and consider.

But for those students who will be “first in the family”, the idea of college can be intimidating, confusing and even feel completely unattainable. Because they do not have the experience of college, parents of these students may not know how to offer support or guidance or what questions to ask when meeting with teachers or school counselors. Then, there are some parents who for various reasons don’t support the idea of college, adding an additional stress for students seeking higher education.

For the students in the Castle Park community of Chula Vista, the challenges are many. Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood (CVPromise), a federally funded program that supports academic excellence and college bound aspirations in Castle Park, partners with five target neighborhood schools Castle Park Elementary, Castle Park Middle, Castle Park High School, Hilltop Middle and Hilltop High School.

According to a detailed needs assessment of the area conducted by CVPromise and San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), 67% of adults in the Castle Park community do not have their high school diploma and only 12% of adults have college degrees or higher. The research also found that less than half of the students in the target high schools had completed A to G course requirements – these are the courses required to be eligible for admittance into University of California or California State Universities.

To change these statistics, part of CVPromise’s comprehensive plan includes an Academic Advocate program. On the campuses of the middle and high schools, Academic Advocates work one-on-one with students including his/her family, school counselor and teachers to provide not only emotional and informational support but help create a personal plan for a successful pathway to college and career. Academic Advocates will each have 50 students and will continue to serve as mentor and guide until students graduate.

“We not only support academically, but we also look beyond the classroom to provide a holistic support system that will help students succeed,” Academic Advocate Allie Hunter said.

And the students are seeking them out.

“I had a student bring a group of her friends to our offices the other day,” academic advocate Rea Concepcion shared.

“She told us ‘They need help to get into college!’ And that’s what we’re working toward, to create a college going atmosphere for all.”

Data shows that those with college degrees not only earn more income that those without degrees, but are most likely to have health insurance and retirement benefits with their jobs and less likely to be unemployed. Although a traditional four-year-university may not be for everyone, research also shows that some sort of postsecondary training is a good idea for almost everyone – and that still means graduating high school and having a strong academic foundation.

“We are supporting and encouraging academic success so our students have options as they get closer to graduation,” South Bay Community Service Youth Development Director Mauricio Torre said. “Thinking of those career paths early and working toward academic success will benefit our high school graduation rate, college admission rate and the overall health of our community.”

To learn more about CVProm­ise’s Academic Advocates, visit www.CVPromise.

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