A Publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland
Catholic Voice Online Edition
Front Page In this Issue Around the Diocese Letters News in Brief Calendar Commentary
Mission Statement
Contact Us
Publication Dates
Back Issues

Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland

El Heraldo

Movie Reviews

Mass Times

Catholic Voice
articles list
placeholder Father John Maxwell remembered for bold commitment to social justice

Diocese renews focus on stewardship as way of life, not a fundraising tool

Mercy Sister speaks of ministry of listening, an art of spiritual direction

Mental health needs strain Haiti’s recovery

Vatican cautious
about growth of first synthetic cell

Pope urges joint efforts to help migrants, refugees

Catholic Campaign for Human Development local grant applications are due July 31

Catholic Communication Campaign collection will take place June 12-13 in Oakland Diocese

• Sister Mary Gregory Allen, PBVM
• Sister Madelene Rowden, OP

Special section

Tribute to the Class of 2010

Students at merged schools succeed as Freedom Writers

Perennial favorite transfers classroom to former student

Hayward teacher of 40 years retires, leaving legacy of respect, kindness

Nine earn Master’s degree in pastoral ministries from HNU

SJND students on sojourn to the Past, walk in footsteps of civil rights history

Collegians dispel myths that keep urban kids from college

New HNU president brings academic, business acumen

Catholic high school graduates more likely to attend college

International study broadens collegians’ perspectives

$100,000 grant for first-generation students at Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont

FACE continues to provide grants to help low-income students in Catholic schools

Fontbonne Forum examines digital impact

Website shows how to promote social justice in college

A sampling of student activities

placeholder June 7, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 11   •   Oakland, CA

Collegians dispel myths that
keep urban kids from college

The visiting Saint Mary’s College students asked the middle school class at St. Martin de Porres School what they want to be when they grow up.

ABOVE: Ernesto Marroquin, an undeclared major at Saint Mary’s College, talks about the myths that often keep students from becoming the first in their family to attend a four-year college. BELOW: Clayton Loo, a business administration major at Saint Mary’s College, stands with a group of St. Martin de Porres School students during an exercise to encourage them to believe they can go to college.
“I want to be a doctor,” announced Priscillia Alva.

“That’s despite the fact she has a marvelous singing voice,” volunteered Maurice Harper, the principal, still wowed by the 11-year-old’s performance of “Ave Maria” at the recent First Communion Mass.

“I’m a soprano,” Priscillia informed a visitor.

Selam Kidane, a Saint Mary’s sophomore, suggested to Priscillia that she consider combining the best of both worlds. “You could be in the choir when you are in college and do both. You could be a singing doctor. Anything is possible.”

Thus, another dream was cleared for take off at the north Oakland school where, in a partnership with Saint Mary’s College, youngsters are being primed to be the first generation in their families to graduate from a four-year college.

At a time when California is facing the prospect of falling some one million college graduates short of its workforce needs by 2025, the First Generation to College program has reached into the most economically marginalized area of Oakland to reinforce for children what is possible, and to tell them what they need to do now to prepare for success.

The college students visited St. Martin de Porres periodically throughout the school year and will be returning next year and the following year, mentoring sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

Some 65 St. Martin students also get to be “Gaels for a day” on the Moraga campus. That is proving to be an enticing recruiting tool. The other day, a third-grader, having been told of her sixth-grade sister’s visit, announced her intentions to go to Saint Mary’s.

Saint Mary’s defines a first generation student as one with neither parent having graduated from a four-year college. Indeed, only from 10 to 15 percent of parents of St. Martin de Porres students attended college, said Sister Barbara Dawson, the school’s president.

The student body is largely a blend of two cultures, African-American (57 percent) and Latino (40 percent). Forty percent of the children speak a language other than English in their homes.

The average family of four with a child at St. Martin de Porres has an annual income of $20,000 — but parents are rich in hope, said Sister Dawson, because they sacrifice to clothe their kids in uniforms, pay tuition — with 90 percent qualifying and receiving financial aid — and help them meet and surpass standards.

Moreover, while enrollment has been declining at other schools, St. Martin de Porres, established in 1996 by consolidating three Catholic schools with low enrollments, is having a growth spurt. There were 94 students in 2003, 140 in 2004, 165 in 2005, 175 in 2006 and 208 in 2010, at the two-campus school serving West and Northwest Oakland — K-5 at Sacred Heart Parish and the middle school at St. Patrick Parish.

“We had to improve the program,” said Sister Dawson. “We had to improve the safety of the school, we had to let people know they are welcome to come here, and we had to raise enough money to figure out how to make it work for them financially. We had to make it accessible.”

She added, “This is like a little family here, very safe, very intimate,” and yet set amid difficult economic and high-crime realities of the city.

“There is an urgency to stay on the right track,” she said of her students, “because if they get off the track, and I would say particularly the boys more than the girls, they are really gone.”

The First Generation to College program took root at Saint Mary’s when Phylis Martinelli, professor and chair of sociology — herself a first-generation college student in the 1960s — was inspired by the glee of the college’s students of color at their graduation, and their gratitude for those who had helped them.

‘There had to be a way’

“The students who had overcome adversity and who saw themselves differently at the end of the four years, who were acknowledging their networks and social support, really grabbed me, and I felt there had to be a way to bring this to the rest of the campus,” said Martinelli.

Martinelli, with a former student, Dana Herrera, who had returned to campus as an associate professor of anthropology, researched first generation to college literature and found by and large the students had been assimilated, with their cultural differences and family background left behind. They thought it wrong to cast those qualities as so-called cultural deficits, and that the accent should be placed on what first-generation students bring to the college mix.

“We started thinking about the asset model,” said Herrera, “what it is they bring to academia and often it is this drive to compete, this strong work ethic, this sense of the value of education, this desire to give back to the community.”

She added, “The fact you are multi-lingual is a strength, not a deficit. And in doing that, we highlighted the cultural strengths that people bring, the fact they have knowledge that they might not even be aware of, that their voice is valued.”

‘Increase the cultural capital’

Martinelli and Herrera designed a sociology-anthropology class in first-generation studies that attracted students like Ali R. Gonzales, 21, a 2010 graduate in biology and anthropology. In turn, she headed her own efforts to establish social networks for first-generation students, some of whom may feel isolated. Her goal was to “help increase the cultural capital” on the campus.

Already there’s a payoff. Of the 674 freshmen entering Saint Mary’s in the fall of 2008, 233 were first-generation students. Of them, 85 percent returned for a second year, compared with 79 percent of their peers, said Samuel J. Agronow, director of the Office of Institutional Research at Saint Mary’s. For the fall of 2010, to date 264 freshmen are first-generation out of a total of 698, said Narisa Orosco, senior admissions officer at the Moraga college.

The thinking at Saint Mary’s is that Saint John Baptist de La Salle, the patron saint of teachers who founded the Christian Brothers in 1694, would himself embrace the first-generation mission.

At St. Martin de Porres the other day, seniors Kelly Kramer and Clayton Loo helped distribute flyers, in English and Spanish, headlined “Imagine,” with helpful hints for parents, noting the countdown to college — help your child get involved in school and extracurricular activities, talk to your child about college and career options and ask them about what they’re good at, to name a few.

Kramer and Loo suggested the students attach it to the refrigerator door at home.
“It helps that we are talking to them about college,” said Kramer. “When you are more familiar with something it makes it that much easier to make it a reality.”

“We try to provide role models,” said Loo. “Most of us in the Saint Mary’s class are first-generation. We try to instill in the kids that we did it; a lot of people did it. It is very possible for them to do it as well.”

Neal Wade, 13, and Anayeli Morfin, 14, both eight graders, have bought in.

“I want to be a lawyer,” said Morfin. “I just don’t like injustice. But I don’t want to be a doctor. I hate blood.”

“I want to do whatever seems very helpful to others,” said Wade. “I am interested in figuring things out, like maybe as a detective.”

Around the classroom, career goals were announced: Veterinarian, doctor, lawyer — along with a few aiming for the NBA and WNBA.

Maurice Harper, the principal, can relate to many of those dreams. He was a star basketball player at Saint Mary’s and was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1975, but opted for a career teaching, including serving 21 years at his high school alma mater, Saint Mary’s in Berkeley.

He liked what he heard this day at St. Martin de Porres.

“When people feel the many restrictions that life and our economy have placed on us, well, to hear our students say they want to be doctors and have other professions — that to me was incredible. It shows that even given the challenge and uncertainty, these folks are saying, ‘I hear that, but I still want to do that. I think that can happen.’

“It provides me with hope, because it is not unusual for kids to feel hopeless, and I did not hear any hopelessness today.”

back to topup arrow


Copyright © 2008 The Catholic Voice, All Rights Reserved. Site design by Sarah Kalmon-Bauer.