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Kids Who Grew Up In SDSU Shadow Come To Campus As Freshmen

Christian Castro talks with friends outside the San Diego State Bookstore, August 29, 2011.
Katie Schoolov
Christian Castro talks with friends outside the San Diego State Bookstore, August 29, 2011.
Kids Who Grew Up In SDSU Shadow Come To Campus As Freshmen
An SDSU program is designed to bring more kids who grow up near the campus onto it as students.

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)

Out of the 4,000 San Diego State University freshmen who have just wrapped up their first week of classes, only a very small group can say what Jessica Hernandez and Christian Castro do about their classmates.

“It was pretty nice having a familiar face nearby,” Hernandez said of her first few days on campus.


“They still come to me and say ‘Hi, how’re you?' They know me, so it feels pretty nice, so yeah, I know a big number of students,” Castro said.

Hernandez and Castro are two of 44 students from San Diego’s Hoover High School that are part of this year’s freshman class. Hoover is less than three miles away in City Heights. But many of its students are first- or second-generation immigrants for whom the journey to college is about a lot more than physical distance.

The 44 Hoover grads are the first to complete SDSU’s College Avenue Compact Program. The program is party of SDSU's City Heights Educational Collaborative. Some of its staff are on-site at Hoover working with students and their families beginning in the ninth grade.

“They provide mentoring and guidance to the students, help them with whatever they need in terms of college applications," said Tim Allen, the collaborative's executive director. "They give them all of the information about college entrance exams, financial aid and so forth. Additionally, we have someone to work with parents because we believe it’s important that the parents support their children as they’re going through the college application process. And for many of the parents, it’s new.”

Through the Compact agreement students don’t have to hit the same high grade point average other students applying to SDSU do, but they meet other requirements, like testing out of any remedial classes.


Allen said the agreement has opened the door to college for Hoover students in a dramatic way.

“Last year we had about 41 students apply," Allen said. "This year we had close to 83, I think it was. And then in terms of people who actually go to San Diego State of that group, we had 17 last year and this year we have 44.”

The College Avenue Compact may focus on high school students, but the City Heights Educational Collaborative starts prepping kids for college in elementary school. The collaborative works with Rosa Parks elementary, where Jessica Hernandez went to school. She remembers visiting SDSU from as early as the fourth grade.

“I mostly remember walking around here," she said, pointing to a sunny stretch near the campus bookstore. "I was like ‘whoa - it’s way too big.’ I couldn’t really imagine myself going to college.”

When Hernandez graduated from Hoover in June, she was class valedictorian. With her academic success how much help did she really need from the Compact to turn that vague idea about going to college into a reality?

“I think a lot," she said, "because I would have gotten lost without the help they gave us on all the paperwork that had to be filled out.”

Christian Castro’s plans to attend college were never fuzzy. He arrived from Mexico while in junior high with his sights set on achieving his idea of the "American Dream" – a college degree. But, as the time to apply approached he said he also got nervous about all of the paperwork.

“They helped me out with the college applications, with the scholarships, with all the process," he said. "I have to say today, that I would not be here, making my dream a reality without the assistance of the program.”

The Compact also works with Hoover High’s teachers to make their curriculum more rigorous so students would be ready for college-level coursework. Many of the 44 Hoover grads now on campus are also part of the Educational Opportunity Program that gives low-income and first generation college students a summer introduction to college and additional support the whole time they are at SDSU.

With all of the support he’s gotten, Castro said the first days of classes didn’t make him nervous.

“I feel prepared,” he said.

That’s probably what the staff running the College Avenue Compact were hoping he’d say.