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Partnerships help students toward goal of graduation
Jesse Aguirre attends a summer program for high potential students at Saint Mary's College of California.
MICHELE JURICH/ THE CATHOLIC VOICE
Jesse Aguirre has had his eye on Saint Mary's College since his freshman year of high school.
"I've always wanted to come here," said the 18-year-old from San Jose. "The first thing that attracted me was the basketball team. I love playing basketball. I would always watch them play."
The college is returning the favor. Through Aguirre's participation in the High Potential Program, the college will have an eye on Aguirre as he progresses toward his anticipated graduation date in June 2018.
Aguirre is also one of five students coming to Saint Mary's through the college's partnership with the KIPP schools. KIPP, an acronym for Knowledge Is Power Program, operates 10 free public charter schools in educationally underserved communities in the Bay Area; 95 percent are students of color; 73 percent qualify for the free or reduced priced lunch program.
It was that High Potential Program, focused on students who are in the first generation of their families to attend college, that brought Aguirre, along with 40 others, to the Moraga campus for two weeks of a bridge program to help them prepare for the fall semester — and beyond.
"I appreciate this," Aguirre said one morning. "The fact that people take time to get other students ready for college is a great thing."
The day begins early, and is packed with classes and workshops to solidify skills in academic areas such as calculus and English, as well as offer tools to become successful in college. Evenings include blocks dedicated to study.
"I barely have time to breathe," Aguirre said.
Assignments were due at a rapid pace, often at the next class meeting. For the critical inquiry seminar, for example, there was a paper every day. Aguirre, accustomed to working hard, was keeping up the pace.
He even found time in his long day to work out at the gym on campus.
"I wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning to go work out because that's the only time we're free," he said. "I was on the treadmill and the head coach was right there. I said, 'It's a pleasure to meet you' and asked about walk-ons."
"Most people don't come in contact with him on the treadmill," Aguirre said of his meeting with the coach. "He'll see me working hard. We were the only ones in the gym."
Aguirre played basketball all four years at KIPP San Jose Collegiate, where he was a 5-8 point guard. "It's been one of my goals to play college basketball," he said. " If I don't get there, I'll keep trying."
He is focused on his academic goals; he's planning to study business. "I need to get out of here, so I can have a job and help my family," he said. "That's my biggest concern."
He is the oldest of three boys – his brothers are 13 and 11 — who have been raised by their grandparents on San Jose's East Side.
"We are a family of nine, only my grandfather was working," he said. But their grandmother did not want her grandchildren working. "She said, 'I don't want you guys to work; I want you to focus on your studies. Even though we went through some hard times, financially, she said we had to chase our education first. She was always on top of that," he said.
Saint Mary's had been his dream school. "The reason why I love Saint Mary's so much is that it was the pathway for our family to go to college. I have two cousins who go here, I have an aunt who goes here, and now I'm going here."
But until the KIPP partnership was announced in the spring, it looked like that dream would elude his grasp.
He originally committed to Sonoma because the financial aid offer from Saint Mary's fell short, he said. "My grandma was a little upset. 'I wanted you to go to that one.'"
After his last baseball game – in which he'd hit a home run — he got a message from KIPP. He would be a Gael, after all!
"My aunt bought me a Saint Mary's hat my sophomore year," he said. Now he could wear it with greater purpose.
An altar server at his parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Jose, Aguirre said faith "is huge" in his family's life. "My grandmother makes us go to church all the time. It ended becoming something you know you're going to do, and want to do, we go all the time. We go mornings, 7:45," he said. They go later, when their grandfather lectors.
"Sometimes my grandma brings us along to rosary on Saturdays and Wednesdays," he said. "It's big for me."
David Ling, director of KIPP Through College, said the schools are partnering with more than 60 colleges and universities across the country; nine are in this region. Three are Catholic schools, including the University of San Francisco and Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. There are some giants: The University of California, Berkeley, is a partner, as are San Francisco State University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
KIPP's partnership with Saint Mary's this year is felt most strongly for KIPP students who, like Aguirre, had already applied to the college.
What's attractive to KIPP is that Saint Mary's will place all the KIPP scholars in the High Performance Program, helping ensure that those who start college will finish. The college's track record is strong: According to the college, the Hispanic student graduation rate, at 65 percent completion in four years, exceeds the college's average overall rate by five percentage points.
KIPP will be following its high school graduates, as well as those who complete eighth-grade at the KIPP schools.
"This partnership is in keeping with Saint Mary's mission of providing educational access for low-income first generation college students," Saint Mary's College President James Donahue said in a press release. "It builds on the 40-year tradition of the College's High Potential Program, which was created to foster higher education opportunities for low-income students from diverse under-represented communities."
Well prepared for college, Jesse Aguirre is ready for the academic challenges ahead. He also plans to try out for the basketball team.
"There's another guy who just transferred," he said. "He's not that much taller than me."
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