Monday, October 28, 2013
"The Graduates" follows six Latino students working to achieve their higher education goals.
Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)
Mid-city high school students sit shoulder-to-shoulder on overstuffed couches and listen intently as one of their peers reads a story he has just written using advanced vocabulary commonly seen on the SAT test. Their instructor, Eduardo Corona, stands off to the side and holds up a finger for every word the high schooler uses properly in a sentence.
Not long ago, Corona was one of the students sitting on the couches.
Now a junior at San Diego State University, Corona works for the City Heights-based college prep program Reality Changers. It works with low-income teens to demystify the college application process and prepare them for the rigors of higher learning.
A recent study from the Brookings Institution reveals poor recruitment by top-tier colleges and a shortage of school counselors means many high-achieving students in low–income neighborhoods don’t apply to competitive schools. Programs like Reality Changers work to bridge the gap.
Reality Changers, which serves as a resource for students to get help with homework and supplement the support they receive at school, was more than just an after school program for Corona. Now the director of a Reality Changers program for eighth-graders to high school juniors called College Town, Corona said he was surrounded by “bad influences” growing up in City Heights. He said he hung out with the friends of his older brother and sister and eventually joined a gang.
That stopped when he met Reality Changers founder Christopher Yanov and was accepted into the program. Through his success at Reality Changers, Corona secured a spot at a UC San Diego summer program for high school students. That’s where he said he realized that he could be successful in school.
“The people who were carrying their fancy calculators with thick glasses and fancy books — well, the nerds — I ended up beating them,” Corona said. “And I just simply walked in with a wooden pencil behind my ear. And that’s when I knew I’m actually capable of doing something with my life.”
Now studying psychology at SDSU, Corona said he felt compelled to give back to the community and help kids like him realize their potential. Every year he goes to Wilson and Monroe Clark middle schools to host an assembly for the worst-performing students. He challenges them to raise their GPAs for a chance to get accepted into Reality Changers.
Marshela Salgado-Solorio, vice president of Reality Changers, said many of the students rise to the occasion.
“These are really the students with the most motivation and change of heart. Clearly they are inspired by what Eduardo tells them,” Salgado-Solorio said.
And the local community’s not the only one to take notice of Corona’s story. He’s featured in the PBS documentary "The Graduates," which follows the paths of six Latino students working to achieve their higher education goals.
The two-part series airs at 10 p.m., Nov. 4 on KPBS-TV.