‘I feel like I will be someone’: graduating seniors venture forth with honors

As the school year draws to a close, college looms big and bright for Corina Rodriguez and her fellow graduating seniors at Pescadero High.

One hundred percent of the 21 seniors in Rodriguez’s class are college-bound. The majority (81 percent) applied to 4-year colleges and were provisionally accepted based on their last transcript. Another 19 percent chose to enroll in community college, with the option to transfer to a 4-year college, according to Pat Talbot, Principal of Pescadero High.

Corina (left)

Corina (left)

Every one of those students will leave behind Pescadero’s rural comforts for the larger world, at least for now – some will live on campus and others will take the drive over the hill every day for school. There is little doubt that Rodriguez will make the most of it. The buoyant, brightly expressive 17-year-old is the youngest in her class and also one of the highest achievers. She’s earned ‘outstanding student’ credits for chemistry, math and English. She’s played every sport at school. Now she has the delicious dilemma of choosing between two 4-year colleges: Notre Dame de Namur, a private school, and Cal State Monterey Bay.

“I feel like I will be someone. I need to get out of Pescadero for a bit but I will come back later on,” says Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is exemplary in other ways. She speaks perfect English and perfect Spanish, and she is one of three graduating students who will receive the State of California’s Seal of Biliteracy, the first time this honor has been given to students at Pescadero High.

Ari Sandi, recipient of the State of California’s Seal of Biliteracy

Ari Sandi García, recipient of the State of California’s Seal of Biliteracy

Puente’s Academic Director, Suzanne Abel, approached the school district with information about the Seal of Biliteracy after she learned of it last year. It is her hope that it will become a point of pride for the students as well as a resume-builder.

“It will underscore to bilingual kids that they have a set of skills worth honing that normally aren’t recognized,” Abel says.

This came as an “awesome” surprise to Rodriguez, who got the news of her award a few weeks before the end of the school year.

“Everyone knowing that you can speak English and Spanish almost perfectly is great. You don’t have to brag about it to anyone, because they’ll see that seal,” she says.

Lorena Calvillo, recipient of the State of California’s Seal of Biliteracy

Lorena Calvillo, recipient of the State of California’s Seal of Biliteracy

Rodriguez also joins six other Puente youth in earning a Youth Bridges Scholarship this year. Puente sends students to college with up to $450 for books and tuition, depending on the number of years they have worked for the nonprofit.

Money is a major factor in students’ college decisions. The amount of financial aid a low-income student may receive almost never covers his or her tuition, room and board, known as the “tuition gap.” The gap disproportionately affects American minority students and the resulting student loans can bury them in debt for decades, according to a report from the Center for American Progress.

2012 Youth Bridge Scholarship Earners

2012 Youth Bridge Scholarship Earners

Financial considerations can compel a student to choose a two-year community college program over a four-year college, says Puente Program Director Rita Mancera.

“The graduating class will need to get big funds for tuition. They’re hoping they’ll get a substantial offer from the university,” says Mancera.

Regardless of the college she chooses, Rodriguez says the Youth Bridges Scholarship money will help smooth her way in her first semester. With her father injured and unable to work, Rodriguez’s mother has already had to stretch her wages to help cover college tuition for Rodriguez’s two older siblings; both graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara.

“My parents have stretched to educate all of us, but at great sacrifice — they don’t have that money to just give away without worrying about it,” she says. She hopes that the money that she has saved, scholarships and financial aid will help her fulfill her dreams of college.

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