Behind the Scenes: Partnership Scholars Program
Fort Bragg ADVOCATE-NEWS – Thursday, January 19, 2012 – Section A – Page 11
By Betty Barber
“I couldn’t imagine what was possible for me before I entered the Partnership Scholars Program. I became aware of alternative ways of thinking and aware of new opportunities for my life,” said Niko Gomez, a senior at Mendocino Community High School.
Gomez tells me about the Partnership Program he has been in for the last five years. He said that the six-year program begins in the seventh grade and end at graduation after the senior year of high school.
Students are chosen for the program if they are strongly motivated to go to a four-year college, if they have at least a 3.0 grad point average, and are from supportive, low-income families. Each student/scholar is assigned to a volunteer mentor who will work with the scholar for the next six years.
Together, the mentor and scholar go to concerts, plays, museums, and travel to places as far away as New York, Washington, D.C. or even to other countries. They go to various kinds of restaurants and eat food from different cultures. The purpose of the program is to provide experiences that the student might not otherwise have and open them up to new possibilities for their future. These experiences result in new-found confidence and independence.
Scholars learn how to effectively study and they are offered the opportunity to take summer enrichment programs at the college campus. In their senior year, they make trips to the different college campuses that interest them. During the six years of the program the scholar receives close to $10,000 in scholarship funds for educational materials, cultural experiences and travel that is administered by the mentor.
A popular part of the program occurs at the 11th and 12 grades when a College Coordinator helps advise the scholars about selection of colleges, helps with their application to college, their required essay and scheduling of entrance examinations.
Sixteen years ago, Dr. Glenn and Marianne Langer started the Partnership Scholars program using their retirement funds to make going to college a possibility for low-income students. They became aware that in the Los Angeles school district where they were volunteering that some of the students had never been to the ocean a mile away, that some had never been out of the area where they grew up and, for most of them, thinking of a college career was impossibility. The Langers expanded their successful Los Angeles project to Mendocino, Fort Bragg and Ukiah when they moved to Little River in 1999.
Dr. Langer and mentors are proud that at the June 2011 graduation, six Fort Bragg and Mendocino High School seniors, who were Partnership Scholars, received full four-year scholarship for college amounting to $1 million. They also earned many scholarships from local community organizations.
Since the Scholarship Program started 16 years ago, 200 scholars have received more than $17.6 million in scholarship money and financial aid, averaging $88,000 for their four years of college. Dr. Langer points out that, “This represents eight times our total monetary investment over the six years in the Partnership program.”
Locally, 20 scholars have graduate from college, or are currently enrolled, and 26 are progressing through middle and high school in Mendocino, Fort Bragg and Ukiah.
Feedback from the scholars is overwhelmingly enthusiastic and rich in praise for how fulfilling the program has been for them.
Gomez, Mendocino Community High School, hope to go to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), has high praise for his mentor, Fran Schwartz, who helped him enlarge his thinking and his ability to plan for the future, as well as creating opportunities for important experiences through her many contacts.
Marivel Medina, who received a full four-year scholarship to attend Smith College, and a recent graduate of Fort Bragg High School, said in a letter to her mentor Dawn Hofberg and Dr. Langer, “The Partnership Program has helped me understand what I need to do in order to become a person others can look up to in the future. I am no longer a shy and quiet child, but rather a confident, ambitious young woman. Thanks to my mentor and sponsors, I feel comfortable about attending Smith College where I hope to follow a major in environmental science and a minor in Italian language.”
Maryell Hernandez just graduated from Harvard University where she had a $190,000 four-year scholarship. She promised herself that she would “do as much as I can to pay you back.” She is beginning a two-year commitment in the “Teach for America” program. This is a program that provides teachers aides to the most challenging schools in the United States.
In a letter to Dr. Langer, she said she owed, “any success to the people who saw the potential in me before I even realized I had it. Just the fact that someone believed I could succeed and gave me the monetary support is surreal. I come from a place where achievements are little and people are in the dark about what they can do.”
The lives of the mentors change, too. They are enriched and gratified by their involvement in the program. First year mentor, Ryan Rhodes, said, “Being a mentor is a joy and a privilege. I love having all these experiences to learn and share with Jose (his mentee). It is a blessing for both me and my wife. While I strive to help Jose and expose him to new experiences, I find that I myself am learning more wit every encounter.”
Rachel Binah, a mentor, and one of the coordinators of the program said, “These magnificent Partnership Scholars students are like butterflies poised to emerge from the childhood cocoon and prepare for flight. The program has changed their lives by showing them possibilities which they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise and greatly enriched mine through knowing them and their supportive families.”
Partnership Scholar funded by private donations. There is always a need for more financial supporters and mentor to allow this life-changing program to continue.
What you can do to help
Mentor a student; contact Dawn Hofberg at Dawn@mcn.org
If you would like to talk about the program you can contact any of the four coordinators: