GLENDORA – This year, more than 2,700 students in the Ontario-Montclair School District will have visited a college campus, for many of them this is their first time stepping foot on the school grounds.
During the college tours the fifth graders visited science labs, art galleries, dorms, lecture halls, and athletic fields to get a sense of college life.
It is all being made possible through a new program known as Promise Scholars.
“They can begin to see themselves at college,” said Leslie Sorensen, resource development administrator at Ontario-Montclair School District.
The district has launched Promise Scholars, a series of initiatives meant to create access for college for each grade level starting with elementary, middle and high school and on to college/career preparation. Modeled after the award-winning Online to College program, it will help ensure a place in college for students.
Students from various schools in the school district have been visiting colleges throughout the year, wrapping up the tours this month. On a Friday in early March, more than 80 Moreno Elementary School fifth graders visited Citrus College.
Even though the students will not graduate high school until 2020, district officials know the key is making sure students make a connection early on about the importance of pursuing a higher education, said Lisa Keller, one of two AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer who has focused her attention entirely on building the program.
“The foundation of our program is talking to the students about college and then taking them to a college and really letting them have the experience of what its like to be in college,” she said.
For the fifth graders, it’s their introduction into higher education. During the tour they get to sit in classrooms, walk around the campus and get a first-hand account from a current college student.
It all makes for a memorable experience that helps students can take with them through the years.
To enhance the program, students will get another chance to visit universities during their 8th grade. This visit is aimed to set the foundation and prepare them for their academic careers, Keller said.
Keller said she has received positive feedback from the fifth graders who have taken the campus tours.
“They are all excited to talk about what they want to be and talk about the opportunities they would have if they went to college,” she said. “If they are just thinking about college as this abstract ‘oh I have to go to school longer’, that might not be as attractive, but by getting to go and do interactive fun things at the college they have had that positive experience,” Keller said.
Research shows student in low‐income family background, often have very little understanding of things such as enrollment processes, costs of tuition and that there are financial aid options available.
“I did have parents who went to college and an older sister which was really formative,” Keller said.
Things like coming classes schedules – not having to be on campus all day – or knowing there is a student center where there are clubs and organizations, was totally new to them, Keller said.
“I had this really funny experience at Cal Poly Pomona. We were walking through this lounge area where students were sleeping in the middle of the day, as college students do. This one student asked me ‘are they homeless? Why are they sleeping on the couch?’” Keller recounted.
She had to explain that it was most likely that the student didn’t want to go back to their dorm room or go home in between classes.
“Something like that was very normal to me when I was in college but that it’s unique to college culture. It’s this whole new world we’re opening up to these students at an early age,” she said.
Citrus is one of many local higher education institutions this year to come on board and be a Promise Scholars partner, Sorensen said.
In addition, University of Riverside, Cal State San Bernardino, Cal Poly Pomona, University of Redlands, and the University of La Verne have vowed to be involved.
Eventually, students who have met all the requirements of the program will have the chance at a Promise Scholars Scholarship Award as well as access and admissions to one of the partner colleges.
The goal of the program is to increase the college-going rate of Chaffey, Montclair, and Ontario high school graduates from 39 percent to 56 percent.
In order to do that, officials know they must also address the financial costs that comes with attending college. In some households, that is the biggest barrier to attending higher education, Sorensen said.
Promise Scholars along with the Inland United Way spearheaded the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Completion Campaign at Montclair High School, Sorensen said.
Typically, less than half of the students at Ontario and Montclair high schools complete the application for federal aid. But Sorensen said research shows those who are able to complete the form increase their odds of pursing a college education by 90 percent.
As a result of the new campaign, Montclair High School saw the number of FAFSAs completed by the March 2, Cal Grant deadline, increase by 19.7 percent from last school year, she said.
The increase could lead mean $259,600 more state financial aid being offered to local students, the average state aid is $5,900.
This portion of the program was overseen by Sara Clarke, another Inland Empire United Way AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. Sorensen said they hope to expand this portion of the Promise Scholars in the coming years.
District “We are thrilled to see the increase in the number of students who have completed the FAFSA this year at Montclair HS That increase will ensure that more students have the opportunity to go to college,” said Tim Ward, Assistant Superintendant of the Chaffey Joint High School said in a statement.
For more information about Promise Scholars, contact Leslie O’Hare Sorensen, Resource
Development administrator, Ontario‐Montclair School District Learning & Teaching Division at 909-418‐6331.