Spotlight on El Monte regional coordinator, Arlene LeGaspe
Not many know the story of how Partnership Scholars Program spread from Lennox, California to the community of El Monte in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles. But Arlene LeGaspe knows it well. A native to El Monte, Ms. LeGaspe helped lead the way in expanding the burgeoning college-access program, thanks to the advocacy of former Charles T. Kranz Intermediate School principal, Sal Gumina. Mr. Gumina was inspired to replicate the program after meeting PSP founder Glenn Langer at Lennox Middle School. He saw PSP’s growing success in a community he equated with El Monte and wanted to take the show on the road. In 1999, with the support of new funding, Partnership Scholars was launched at Kranz Intermediate with Arlene LeGaspe at the helm.
When approached with the prospect of a new mentorship program to support students in their pursuit of higher education, LeGaspe got right on board. “The principal [Les Mason] asked if I could do it,” says LeGaspe. “Anything I could do for the kids was fine by me.” She had been a teacher at Kranz since 1992 and saw a critical need for a college-access support for students at her school. She and five other mentors took on ten scholars and the program took off from there. Her initial involvement centered around bringing mentors on board and finding qualified students to receive scholarships. The program continued to grow under the leadership of the next principal and current Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services, Ray Andry, and today enjoys great support under the current principal, Sean Grycel. With the program’s expansion, LeGaspe has been instrumental in forging relationships with the El Monte high schools, coordinating between administration, mentors, students and the community.
More than 16 years later, over 50 students make up the El Monte cohort of scholars. Hoping to see continued expansion, LeGaspe envisions serving even more qualified students. “Without this program, all the success would not happen for a lot of these kids,” says LeGaspe. “If we could, we would take more.” She cites the need to secure additional funding for the program as critical for the programs expansion.
Continuous recruitment of qualified mentors is paramount to PSP’s success in El Monte according to LeGaspe. “[El Monte’s] biggest challenge is keeping mentors,” says LeGaspe. “Our mentors used to go all the way from 7th grade to 12th grade with the kids. It’s hard to keep mentors on for long enough now.” She continues to advocate for the program, bringing on as many teachers as she can. “All these years I’ve been part of this program, I’ve reached every teacher at Kranz,” says LeGaspe. “I can’t have everybody, but I encourage them. Then teachers see the other side of the kid.”
After all this time, LeGaspe continues to reap the rewards of mentorship. “[It’s all worth it] when I take these kids on these trips and their eyes light up,” says LeGaspe. “They think El Monte is their life, but there’s so much more out there than that.” Seeing her scholars “blossom” and “mature” remains the most satisfying part of her involvement with PSP. She adds, “Teaching them, that’s on an academic level, this is more personal.”
Looking to the future, LeGaspe identifies PSP alumni as the key to the program’s growth and effectiveness. “A lot of the alumni don’t live in El Monte anymore,” says LeGaspe. “I’m running out of teachers and mentors, I want to see them give back to the program.” She encourages former scholars that come back to her years later to “pay it forward” and give back to the program that gave so much to them.
Arlene LeGaspe is the El Monte regional coordinator and currently mentors five scholars.