|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, June 21, 2004
Santa Cruze Sentinel 6-20-04College material
By JONDI GUMZ
When teacher Katy Stonebloom told her third-graders at Aromas School that she couldn't find any books for them about going to college, they were outraged.
The young students, their curiosity piqued — though few had parents with college degrees — told their teacher they would have to write that book.
So Stonebloom teamed up with fourth-grade teacher Linda McCue, and they took their 56 students to their alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, to interview faculty and students about the college experience.
Their book, "Kids Around the University," was published in 1997.
Seven years later, those students are deciding whether or not college is part of their future.
"For a kid to be the first in a family to get a college education means overcoming tremendous barriers," Stonebloom said.
The teachers wanted to show youngsters that the university was within their reach, if they wanted to pursue higher education — even if they had learning disabilities, even if their parents were immigrants, even if no one else in their family had gone to college.
It was an ambitious goal.
At Aromas School, which is seven miles from downtown Watsonville, about half the students were sons and daughters of farmworkers.
The odds were against them. Most Latino parents have high hopes their children will pursue higher education, yet statistics show that just completing high school is a major accomplishment.
This year, in a study for the Urban Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., researcher Christopher Swanson found Latino students have only a 50-50 chance of finishing high school with a diploma, and that boys are less likely to finish than girls.
Only 14 percent of Latino high school graduates actually enroll in college, according to the U.S. Census.
The students who participated in the book project at Aromas School, however, have done much better. About two-thirds graduated on schedule from local high schools, and almost as many have college plans.
Making the book
Another student, Corey Stone, remembers the project like it was yesterday. He considers Stonebloom "the best teacher I ever had."
The book describes what college is all about and what prospective students need to know. Colorful photos, most taken by parent volunteers, show the youngsters touring the campus, interviewing and writing. These were the days before laptops, so students relied on pencil and paper, but they did learn to type and use e-mail.
There are sections in the book about dorm life, a typical day for a college student and how to get into the university.
"From middle school on, your grades start to count," the students wrote.
They added these helpful tips: Do your homework every day. Pay attention in class. Think!
And every page was in Spanish as well as English.
When UCSC published the book, printing 10,000 copies, the young authors became celebrities. They met the chancellor. Seven of them traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak at a conference about what they had learned.
All of them got a certificate for admission to UCSC, a valuable piece of paper considering that University of California turned away more than 7,000 qualified students this year because of budget cuts.
Today, Stonebloom, who is tall and has long straw-colored hair, still works at Aromas School, a big building in the center of the little town, population 2,797.
The town hasn't changed much since the book's publication.
McCue, whose dark hair is starting to gray, retired three years ago, but she comes back to the school to volunteer.
Stonebloom has moved out of the classroom into administration. She is the coordinator for students learning English, which means figuring out what to do when four new students show up in May.
She watched as parents from migrant families became outspoken advocates in the school district.
"Latino parents are not known for doing that," she said.
This year, inspired by "Kids Around the University," Aromas students produced three new books. All three focus on the workplace: the quarry operated by Granite Rock, Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Indian motorcycle factory in Gilroy. Fifth- and sixth-graders were lucky enough to visit the plant before it closed.
"We wanted to make sure they were still on track," Stonebloom said.
Aromas School is one of the few in the region that goes though the eighth grade, which makes it easier for teachers to track students' progress.
But not all of Stonebloom's students stayed in the Aromas district to attend the newly opened Anzar High School. The new school started small and remains smaller than most high schools: 340 students, including only 47 in this year's senior class.
Some students opted to attend bigger schools with more course offerings, like North Monterey County High in Castroville, with 1,500 students or San Benito High in Hollister, which has 2,800 students.
Others chose schools with religious ties, like Monte Vista Christian, which has 800 students, or St. Francis, the newly opened Catholic high school with 112 students.
About half the original 56 students came to last year's reunion.
When the teachers asked who planned to go to college, every hand went up.
Flannery Fitch, who will be a senior, hopes to get into UC Santa Cruz, but all of the June graduates picked out other colleges. UCSC is too close to home, one girl explained.
Others want to go further afield, like San Francisco State University, Pacific University in Oregon and even Columbia University in New York.
Stonebloom is fine with that.
"We've kept an eye on them," Stonebloom said. "They have to invite me to their college graduation or I'll be really mad."
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