Future Scholars Program Guides Tucson 5th Graders to College

TUCSON, Ariz.— Aida Garcia-Iniguez-Madero’s fifth-graders learned last week that planning for college now is as important as learning fractions and proper grammar.

As part of an Educational Enrichment Foundation program, the class of 26 boys and girls will receive continuous guidance throughout their school years and, if they follow through, financial help for college as well.

The idea behind the program, called Focus on the Future Scholars, is to envelop each child in a “culture of college expectation,” said Lissa Gibbs, executive director of the Tucson-based foundation.

The endowments were awarded to this fifth-grade class at Roskruge Bilingual Magnet Middle & Elementary School for several reasons, she said, including the school’s proximity to the University of Arizona and Tucson Magnet High School.

Gibbs said $750 has been invested for each child, an amount she hopes will double by the time the children finish high school. The funds will be available only after they complete high school and enroll in college.

If a child does not complete high school, the college fund will be divided among those who do finish. Students have eight years, until 2019, to complete high school.

Roskruge principal Jose Olivas said fewer than half the students in the class have a parent who attended college.

College mentors will visit classrooms and parents will receive guidance on how to help their children. Additionally, field trips to the UA and the high school will help the children better envision a future in each setting.

Merry Portillo-Corral is thrilled about the opportunity for her daughter Cheyenne Corral.

Cheyenne’s older sister, a high school junior, is involved in a similar, federal program called GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

“It’s been very beneficial,” Merry Portillo-Corral said of GEAR UP.

Neither of Cheyenne’s parents went to college, although Portillo-Corral started working toward a teaching degree after high school but ran out of money. She has worked at Tucson Unified School District about 20 years, currently as an administrative assistant in athletics.

“I tell them that their education doesn’t end with high school – it ends when you graduate from college,” Portillo-Corral said of her daughters. “We’ll find the money somehow.”

Garcia-Iñiguez-Madero, who has been teaching for 34 years, said she was “so pleased” to learn her class had been chosen. “I’m just so glad that they are doing this for the children.”

On Wednesday, almost all of her students waved their hands enthusiastically when asked what they would like to study in college, or do when they are adults.

Blanca Olea said she wants to be a teacher, while Destiny Chavarria wants to be a scientist.

Ernesto Estopellan would like to create video games. His buddy, Martin Acuña, dreams of being a professional baseball player.

The dreams continued: An architect, a probation officer, a veterinarian, a chef, an attorney, a doctor, a beautician, a soldier, a nurse and three artists.

“It’s about making sure the kids have it in their minds, from an early age and before middle school, that college is accessible to them,” Gibbs said of the program.

“I only wish we could do it districtwide. It’s of benefit to everyone for these children to succeed.”

The program, which has a budget of $25,000, is funded by Bank of the West, gaming revenue from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Stocker Foundation.