CSUN works with local nonprofit to increase graduation rates

Stefanie De Leon Tzic

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In an effort to enhance college awareness and increase graduation rates among students in the San Fernando Valley area, CSUN’s College of Education has been collaborating with Project GRAD, Graduation Really Achieves Dreams, a nonprofit organization that has been working with K-12 public schools since 2003.

Project GRAD Los Angeles works primarily with minority students from low-income families. Project GRAD LA, which operates under Project GRAD USA, works with a local school district and a group of K-12 public schools to create a college-bound culture, according to Project GRAD USA.

Since its establishment in 1999, PGLA has helped send over 600 high school students from the northeast valley area to CSUN, according to PGLA’s President and CEO, Ford Roosevelt.

“They (CSUN) credential a lot of teachers and have a lot of interesting vocational, job, education and career programs to get people educated in their careers. So it makes sense to partner with them,” Roosevelt said.

According to Roosevelt, the program first introduces college awareness through Walk for Success, a yearly event in which volunteers go door-to-door to homes of elementary through high school students in Pacoima, Arleta, San Fernando and Sylmar.

Once students from the schools reach one of the four participating middle schools, Project GRAD LA establishes groups based on their grade point average (GPA) and monitors their academics.

The students then enter one of the three high schools Project GRAD LA works with and continue to be monitored to ensure they maintain an overall good GPA.

Only 66 of every 100 ninth graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District are on track to graduate. Of those graduates, 52 will finish high school in four years, 32 will enroll in college and 14 will receive a degree, according to Michael Spagna, dean of CSUN’s College of Education, in a news release.

CSUN education students work closely with four middle schools and three high schools to improve the math, reading, writing and critical thinking skills needed to bridge this gap and move more students onto college, Roosevelt said.

“It means a lot to have a college student helping the students, and it means even more if that student is perhaps a Project GRAD Scholar,” Roosevelt said, referring to students who completed the program in high school.

CSUN students work with Project GRAD LA at Maclay, Olive Vista, Pacoima and San Fernando middle schools. From these four middle schools, students continue onto Arleta, San Fernando and Sylmar high schools.

Julisa Chavez, 22, a business management major at CSUN, is a Project GRAD Scholar from the 2007 San Fernando High School group, has worked for the nonprofit organization as an office coordinator for three years.

“One of the biggest challenges high school students face when applying to college, especially among Latinos, is breaking family tradition,” Chavez said. “A lot of times, kids have to start working because they have to provide for their families.”

Integrating a family support system that promotes college is also a challenge, said Jose Alcala, 23, a CSUN business management alumnus and Project GRAD Scholar.

“I didn’t know how apply to college,” he said. “Who was I going to ask, if (my parents) had never been there?”

According to Project GRAD USA, participants are completing college at a rate 92 percent above the national average for students from similar low-income backgrounds.

“If you go where we work, you don’t find a lot of role models with college degrees,” Roosevelt said. “What we are trying to do is bring that dialogue to the communities.”