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Sweetwater 7th Graders To Begin New Academic Journey

October 24, 2013 1:36 p.m.


Lou Murillo, Director, SDSU Compact for Success

Jimmy Cabrera, Motivational Speaker, United States Hispanic Leadership Institute

Reya Gredonia, Biology Major, SDSU

Related Story: Sweetwater 7th Graders To Begin New Academic Journey


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A group of seventh graders from Sweetwater Union High School District have a journey this weekend. They will visit San Diego State University for the first time as members of the program that will take them all the way through graduation. Lou Murillo, Jimmy Cabrera and Reya Gredonia welcome to the program. I heard this program started with a conversation with a Sweetwater superintendent and former SDSU president, Steven Weber.

LOU MURILLO: That's correct. They have actually asked him to come back after a while. He noted a very disturbing trend that the students in Sweetwater were not completing high school, and more alarmingly few were going on to college. The key approach with President Weber, he said can we do something about this. Can we create culture that changes the dynamic in South Bay. To work on the academic rigor required for college success. That was the birth of Compact for Success.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why might kids need programs like this to get into college?

LOU MURILLO: I think in large part going to college is very foreign for parents who have not gone themselves. FAFSA and things like that are foreign to most people. There was a lot of information that parents and students really needed to start the path to going to college. Compact for Success has provided the information.


JIMMY CABRERA: Free application for financial aid.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What does the Compact for Success do?

LOU MURILLO: Over 4000 parents instance are here on our campus. This will be the first impression of San Diego State University. That involves work with in which teachers as well as math teachers to make sure the students understand the record that has to go into those classes. So they can be college ready when they complete high school education. It involves reading the student's back. Most understand now what they need to do to apply to CSU. We help them open accounts to CSU mentor and give the more financial aid information. By the time that they are seniors, they understand the benchmarks that are required for them to get the guaranteed mission.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me talk about the guaranteed admission, if students at Sweetwater in this program hit certain benchmarks, what are they guaranteed?

LOU MURILLO: There are guaranteed admission tests for SDSU. They have to obtain at least a three point GPA each year. They have to pass the ELM and EPT and prerequisite courses and proficiency exams in Math and English.They have to have been a student since the seventh grade and they have to take the SAT or the ACT.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If they get those benchmark they are guaranteed admission to SDSU?

LOU MURILLO: They are.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Reya, what was your experience like at SDSU?

REYA GREDONIA: Growing up I was very shy. I did not like talking to people. I was being thrown into the middle of the ocean and I was going to find a way to survive by myself. But what the Compact for Success did for me was give me a support system where I'm not completely alone.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Before Compact for Success, did you think about going to college?

REYA GREDONIA: I always knew I was going to go to college because my parents did attend. It was going to be a matter of how much my stress meter was going to spike between when I was young and actually being in college.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Compact for Success got you to be admitted by SDSU. What does it do for you now?

REYA GREDONIA: When I came into SDSU as a freshman, it was a big step for me. I lived on campus. I was for the most part on my own, having to keep up with my studies and socialize with new people, now being a senior I feel the Compact for Success has held my hand throughout my college education. It turned what was supposed to be a mountain into ñ still a mountain ñ but gave me the right equipment to climb it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And here you are talking on the radio.



MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lou, how do you get seventh graders excited about this program?

LOU MURILLO: The seventh grade visit is filled with excitement and entertainment, but most importantly information. We have a number of workshops. We tried to get as much information to the parents and students. Students and the parents must be partners on this journey to go to college. If we just talk to students that is only one part of the equation, that is why we invite both students and parents to listen to the message. To create discussions and dialogue so they are all the same page. Our president welcomes the students in the house arena, which is a big deal. We have a lot of entertainment ñ we have mariachis there to entertain them ñ this time we're going to have San Diego State University mariachi band. A new element here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That makes me turn to you Jimmy, what message will you be giving all the kids from Sweetwater?

JIMMY CABRERA: My programs called ìWhat's in your backpack: packing for success in life.î It is the backpack is a metaphor and say whatever you put in your backpack determines success; it's not the size of it, it's what you put in. It's a program to give a person hope. I want to encourage students to know that there is an opportunity for them, their future starts right now. Not twenty years from now. They come to a program like this, they are going to be exposed to something they have never seen. Most have them been on campus. We want to instill the idea that the question is not that your if you're going to college, but where are you going to college? I'm not going to tease them. When are you going to graduate? Have you figured it out? I have a slide that says you are not graduating from this High School. You're going to graduate in 2023, from college. You are not graduating here. Your graduating college. How many more years from seventh grade to high school.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How important are programs like Compact for Success with kids thinking about their future? Now, with this opportunity, did you think this is important?

JIMMY CABRERA: Extremely important. We're in the culture of education. As you know, we're losing students in seventh and eighth grade. The thing is, I am a firm believer that we are pushing college, but there are other avenues companies your vocational and technical schools. Get them introduced to programs. So much information, they can walk out and talk to parents. Start talking about goals with your kids. Talk about what college they want to go to. When parents leave here I hope they go home and talk about their experience. I'm a firm believer that the majority of the students are going to leave changed human beings.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lou, is it fair to give kids special treatment if they hit special benchmarks they guaranteed to go SDSU over other school districts? What was your response?

LOU MURILLO: I get the question often. I get calls from individual schools within the district. Can our school be part of the Compact for Success experience? Doctor Weber had a good response when that question came up. That is if the district is willing to step up and do the hard work, do the heavy lifting, the work that parents have to do, and create that culture that has been established now. The district is willing to do that work than he would be open to open other avenues to Compact for Success, but that has not happened. Sweetwater continues to do the heavy lifting, this work that is being done with teachers at all levels, and with parents and entire community, it's a marvel to behold. We have literally changed the culture in South Bay.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're telling me that you changed the culture, what are other levels of measuring success of Compact for Success?

LOU MURILLO: We track the number of applications that are received from the Sweetwater District and we have for many years. We can go back to the year 2000 and check to the current semester. We can tell you how many applicants were actually admitted, to San Diego State from the class of applicants. How many actually enrolled, and how many were rewarded guaranteed admission. The first year that we've rewarded guaranteed admission was in 2006. That was the first year that they graduated. That was the year that guaranteed admission came into play. Importantly, we measure success by students that pass proficiency exams. That number has gone up well over 400% since we started tracking it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My last question is, to Reya, are you planning to graduate in 2014?

REYA GREDONIA: I am graduating in December. Big Christmas this year! I plan to graduate in December. I've been in this program for so long. Even though I do graduating two months, I do not imagine that that is the last Compact is going to hear from me. We are working on a alumni chapter because the beginning of the program was to get students to this point. Thinking about graduation and to real world. The big question was this short-term goals. Getting the right education in high school. Getting into college and through college, developing you into a global citizen that can contribute to the real world. The next step is to see our students through and past graduation and into the workforce, or nonprofit, thatever they find passion in.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is the next measure of success. I have to end it there. I've been speaking with Lou Murillo, Jimmy Cabrera, and Reya Gredonia.