By MARC LUTZ
Business Journal Editor
For seven years, University of the Pacific has been working with students in the Stockton Unified School District to help them get an edge on life after high school through its Reach for the Stars Academy.
After being part of the Reach for the Stars program from its inception, two participants are furthering their education by attending UOP this fall. Claryse Adams and Mark Jimenez are just two of many that mark the overwhelming success the program is showing.
“In the initial group (in 2011) we had 32 students. Each year we keep adding,” said Nancy Elium, Administrator for Beyond Our Gates Tomorrow Project and Director of the Jose Hernandez Reach for the Stars STEM Academy. “The goal is to get students to stay in school, improve their academic skills, expose them to college life and keep their eyes on graduating high school.”
The program began in just five schools in the district, and is now in 36. Currently there are 134 students participating.
Students attend the academy for five summers, during which they focus on different categories that will aid them in college, vocational technical schools or some other aspect. Subjects like logic and engineering, physics and algebraic structures, water science are presented.
The program is completely voluntary on a first-come, first-served basis beginning in sixth grade.
“Typically, we see an attrition rate in the third year when they start high school,” Elium said. If the students are engaged in extracurricular activities like sports or the arts that keep them from attending, Elium said they can retain their spot. “As long as they’re engaged, that’s OK.”
In 2016, Stockton Unified School District had a graduation rate of 81.97 percent and a dropout rate of 13.1 percent, according to data gathered by edsource.org. More affluent areas of the state see graduation rates closer to 97 and 98 percent, while more impoverished areas see much lower rates.
Elium said most students in poorer areas might not think about attending college, let alone what it takes to get to that point.
“It’s natural for us, but for kids with the backgrounds we work with, this language is not natural,” Elium said. The program provides an encouraging environment, showing students the steps needed to reach their goals. “What’s the cost of getting an education? What is it that you have to do between now and then to attend whatever college, university or technical school?”
Adams is focusing her studies on electrical engineering and applied mathematics, and she’ll be a Pacific Legal Scholar.
“Seven years ago, I was excited to attend Reach for the Stars, yet also terrified because I didn’t know anything on the pre-test given the first day,” Adams said in a statement. “Looking back, I now realize that was a good thing because it meant that I would have a lot to learn from the program.”
Adams, a graduate of Edison High School in Stockton, came to think of UOP as home, and she wanted to further her education there more than anywhere else.
Jimenez, a Franklin High School graduate, will be attending UOP’s Health, Exercise and Sports Science program.
“The thing I most remember about my first time (at the academy) was building the bridges,” Jimenez said in a statement. “I was so nervous, because I had never done any project like that. We learned about logic, engineering, basics and a lot of information about the school.”
Students make friends from other schools in SUSD, learning the value of networking. Oftentimes, Elium said, students from one school will make connections with students from other schools, and will attend functions at one another’s campuses.
“Once they become friends and keep in touch, they find out what’s happening at other schools and get to attend these events,” Elium said. “It’s about having a rich, fulfilled life.”
Beyond the educational and networking aspects, Reach for the Stars partners with businesses in the community like Wells Fargo to focus on financial skills.
Qualifying students beyond their fifth year in the program can apply to be one of nine STEM JEMS (jobs, employment and mentoring skills). The position, which provides younger participants with mentoring from sixth- and seventh-year students, pays $11 per hour.
“In some cases, this is the first job they’ve ever had; their first, real, bona fide job,” Elium said. “They get a check with their name on it. They start to learn banking skills and money management.”
That’s a point at which students can start to look at the costs of higher education, applying for financial aid and getting in the mindset of planning their life beyond high school.
“Now that Mark is going to Pacific, I am even more excited for what the next four years might bring to his future,” said Laura Garcia, Jimenez’s mother. “Little by little, my dream and wish for him is becoming a reality.”