University of California President Janet Napolitano came to Modesto’s Johansen High, urging college track students to aim high and know a top-tier education is within reach.
“A college education is a launching pad to the rest of your life. It’s a place to learn, to grow, to meet new people, learn about new ideas and viewpoints. It will help prepare you to take your place in the world,” Napolitano told the teens Thursday.
The visit was part of her Achieve UC campaign to expand the number and diversity of California teens heading to UC campuses. Fliers left on all the seats as students filed into the campus theater addressed a key diversity present at Johansen: poverty.
Napolitano stressed UC tuition is free for eligible students whose families make less than $80,000 a year. Around 80 percent of Johansen teens come from families making less than half that much.
Her pitch resonated with sophomore Leslie Ramirez. “I’m going to do better in school,” Ramirez said as she gathered her things after the speech. She said she wants to have that UC option, which will take passing 15 college track classes with a B or better, as well as doing decently on the SAT or ACT pre-college test.
Seniors Kelli Emerson and Liliana Montes also said they were inspired. “It motivated me!” Emerson said after the speech. “We should follow our dreams,” Montes said.
But neither had applied to a UC campus, something they would need to have done by Nov. 30 to start this fall. They would have had to have filed financial aid forms by March 2.
A college education is a launching pad to the rest of your life.
UC President Janet Napolitano
That kind of boots on the ground planning is getting a boost at Johansen High this year with a Freshman Seminar, an extra 49-minute period added to the standard school day for virtually all its 475 freshmen, said Principal Nathan Schar. The pilot program was part of what drew Napolitano to the east Modesto school, a spokeswoman said.
Also on her radar were the career focused class groupings that tie math, English and history to industries the students choose as an interest. Johansen has such groupings around video game design, teaching and child development, agriculture, engineering and performing arts. The school Jazz Band kicked off the rally, welcoming clarinet player Janet Napolitano with Duke Ellington standards.
The year-long Freshman Seminar, which the school is working to qualify as a college-track course, teaches students study skills, organization, setting goals and, hopefully, get them on track for high school success and beyond. It seems to be working, Schar said.
“So far, all the benchmark data points we look at are all showing improvement,” he said Thursday. Key among them, more kids passing all their classes. In past years, nearly half of freshmen at the school flunked one or more classes, Schar said. For 2016-17, the number of freshman fails is down 9 percent.
“What really sold me was when we brought it to freshman parents at round-up, there was no backlash. No balking,” said Johansen college counselor Melanie Hidebrandt. “The parents were all on board.”
At UC Irvine I found my home, and that’s what college is about, finding your home for the next four years.
Hildebrant, a UC Irvine grad – “Go Anteaters!” – also spoke to the roughly 500 assembled students.
“At UC Irvine I found my home, and that’s what college is about, finding your home for the next four years,” she told them. What inspired her was going to UC Berkeley games as a child and watching the band march out on the field, the students cheering on their team.
For Johansen social studies teacher Anabel Garcia, inspiration came from her dad, who pushed her to complete her education even though he only passed third grade himself.
“My whole life I never thought I could get to go to a UC,” said Garcia, a UC Merced graduate. Once there, she said, “it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
If Johansen High’s many efforts work pay off, many more of their students will be able to say the same.