Gratefully Paying it Forward

While I had already graduated from El Rancho High School before G1DPR had established any programs, I was in the first group of El Rancho students to receive the Cisneros’ Hispanic Scholarship Foundation scholarship. Through the Cisneros family’s generosity, I was able to afford my books, transportation to and from Yale, and winter gear to keep me warm.

More important than even financial security, G1DPR has given me two new role models. Jacki and Gilbert Cisneros have challenged me to rethink what it means to be successful, helping me recognize my roots and inspiring me to commit myself to public service.

I am currently a senior at Yale University studying Latin American history and politics. My academic interests include social movements, subaltern history, and radical pedagogy. I have recently accepted a job offer through Teach For America and will be teaching special education in Los Angeles after graduation. I will also be enrolling in a Master’s program in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University.

After teaching for a few years, I hope to continue my career in education at the state or federal level. I am also considering working with non-profits. I am passionate about equity in education and I am dedicated to closing the opportunity gap for black and Latino youth. I will do anything and everything in my power to make a difference.

The Chance to Soar

by Monica Ochoa, Sophomore at the University of Notre Dame

As the time to make my college decisions approached in 2014, the financial aspect was a huge factor in deciding where I’d be able to attend. The College and Career Center at El Rancho High School did an excellent job of providing great resources for students, like myself, who are the first in their family to attend college. One of the most impacting resources they offered me was the opportunity to apply to the Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera Scholarship provided by Jacki and Gilbert Cisneros.

It is with strong certainty that I say that receiving this scholarship has played a huge role in why I am currently at my dream school today, University of Notre Dame. This scholarship allowed me to break the financial barrier of attending a private four-year university. Not only has Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera blessed me financially, but it has also blessed me in an inspiring way.

Recently, I was able to meet my role model, NASA Astronaut Jose Hernandez, through Mrs. Cisneros’ new forum called the Latino-Student Empowerment Speaker Series. It is because of programs like this that first-generation college students are able to attend our dream schools and become successful Latinos.

Today, I am a sophomore Aerospace Engineering major at the Notre Dame. My ultimate career goal is one that, at times, felt like a pipe dream until last week when I met Astronaut Hernandez. I hope to work as an engineer for NASA one day and ultimately become an astronaut. Everything is possible as long as one keeps saying, “Sí se puede!”

Passing the Test and Finding a Voice

By, Saloni Patel, UCLA Freshman and El Rancho Alumni
I had the honor of being part of two Generation First Degree Pico Rivera programs: the Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) and “Be A Leader” program at El Rancho High School.

With the help of the EAOP program, I studied for the SATs for an average of three hours a day and increased my SAT score by seventy points. This achievement was possible because the EAOP mentors regularly checked up on me to help clarify any confusion and aided me in utilizing efficient study methods.

I have grown to become a stronger student through these programs. In high school, I was not able to express my ideas with teachers and educated elders. Now, whenever I have a question or strive to elucidate an idea, I am the person in the room who raises her hand. This quality has been extremely beneficial, especially in college, where most students are scared to ask professors questions. I do not hesitate to ask for clarifications. I have outgrown my previous insecurity and have become a driven, vocal and confident student because of EAOP and the Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera “Be a Leader” program.
I am currently studying at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) as a freshman. My major is Biology and I plan on going to medical school to achieve my ultimate goal of becoming a pediatrician.

I enjoy the path I am on now because it’s challenging and the fruits of my hard work are starting to pay off and are equally as rewarding. The Generation 1st Degree college programs help students develop strong study habits that are extremely integral in college. I am grateful that I took the opportunity to be part of these amazing programs offered at El Rancho High School.


An Opportunity Built on Passion

Cesar Ramon Covarrubias

El Rancho High School Alumnus & UCI Freshman

Opportunity comes from having a passion. If you find the passion to pursue something, you’ll find the opportunities to achieve your goals. As for me, I found the passion to be the first in my family to go to a four-year university. This opportunity arose for me because I studied hard, put a lot of effort into getting good grades and was actively involved while at El Rancho High School.

I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I sought help and looked into the resources that were available on campus. I received help from various programs offered at ERHS including the programs that fall under Generation First Degree Pico Rivera, like The College Blueprint, the Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) and the Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera “Be A Leader” program.

All of these programs were excellent because they really help you with any of your college-going needs. The College Blueprint program truly helped me get a head start on many things, such as searching for the college I wanted to attend and selecting a major. They also helped guide me with my personal statements when I applied for colleges. On one occasion, I also won a free Chromebook in a raffle hosted by this program. It was an important tool that I used to do my schoolwork.

The Generation 1st Degree Pico-Rivera “Be A Leader” program was excellent because they provided me with feedback on how I could revise my essays for the scholarships and college applications I worked on. Alma Renteria, the mentor of the program was superb in helping the students revise their essays. She really cared about our success. EAOP also helped guide me throughout my years of high school as they assisted looking over my college applications.

With the help of the ERHS staff, Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera and the mentors from all the said programs, I was able to fulfill my goal of attending The University of California, Irvine. My major is Computer Science and Engineering. My hope is to become an engineer. It’s a great honor and privilege to be able to attend UCI because I now have an even greater passion to make my life better. I now have the opportunity to fulfill my goals of earning a college degree and live a truly successful and fulfilled life.

Just as I received help along the way, I plan to give back to my community. In this way, other hard working students with the same passions can have the same and even better opportunities in their future.


Crossing the Distance

By Lorena Rodriguez – El Rancho High School alumni and freshman Cross Country Runner at the University of La Verne

At a very early age my parents taught  my two younger brothers and me how to read and write by having us copy passages out of books and magazines. Later, we progressed to weekend tutoring with my mom on subjects that we struggled with. I was a great student in elementary school. Many people believed I’d live a promising life because I was so involved in clubs and activities. Despite knowing that money was tight, our parents never discouraged our dreams of going to college.

When I was in eighth grade, we lost our family home and found ourselves practically homeless. Thankfully, my tio and tia took us in and gave us some peace of mind. Losing our home scared me more than anything else I’ve lived through. My dreams of going to college diminished. Adding on to our troubles and financial problems, my mom had a cancer scare in December of that same year. It was through the difficult periods of my high school life that I discovered great programs at El Rancho High School to help me achieve my dreams.

Through my participation in the Be A Leader Foundation, I learned the importance of networking and having a professional outlook. Alma, the program’s Project Manager, was a very supportive figure in my life. She was always available when I needed help understanding my financial aid packets and helped me to narrow down which college was the best fit for me. In order to enrich my studies and guarantee my success, the foundation assisted me in finding certain aspects of a school that were truly important to me as a student.

I also attended The College Blueprint program, which held a rigorous summer boot camp. This changed my life completely. They guided me along the process of writing my personal statement. After countless hours and close to eleven critiqued drafts, I completed a very effective personal statement. This program also taught me how to select schools efficiently by narrowing them down by program, price range and the distance away from home. In essence, they helped me take a major leap in making one of the biggest decisions of my life.

In addition, I applied for the 2015 Frank Terrazas Generation 1st Degree Scholarship and when I received the news that I’d been chosen as a scholarship recipient, I nearly jumped for joy in the middle of campus. The scholarship not only helped alleviate a huge financial burden but it also helped with my substantial commuter expenses.

Thanks to the help of these Generation First Degree programs, I am now able to attend the University of La Verne. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be able to attend an institution that suits my needs and that is so devoted to the student body and the community. I never thought I’d fall in love so much with my university and field of study, Kinesiology.

I give thanks every day for my hard working parents and their support. Seeing me attend college is just one of the many milestones and achievements in their lives.

Life doesn’t always pan out perfectly but I’m very pleased where my life is headed, not only as a Cross Country competitor and a student at the University of La Verne, but as a role model for younger generations. It’s been a long journey but it’s a heck of a great beginning to a beautiful four years ahead.


Meet Olivia Ball, El Rancho Junior, Growing Forward With Grit and Grace

I have always had a responsibility to my family. I come from a household led by my single mother who has learned to provide for my siblings and me, just as a pair of parents would.

My siblings Maxine and Frank, currently 19 and 22 years of age, did not complete their academic careers. They both left high school at the age of 16, having to turn to independent studies and, soon after that, testing out of high school.

There were moments in my childhood when, financially, we were living a stable lifestyle. There was food on the table and a roof over our heads; but this was not always the case. My mother never felt the need to worry us by telling us we had barely been making rent and that her hours were being cut at work, but we sensed it. Once again, we’d fallen into a financial rut.

My mother came from a single-parent household herself, similar to our own family dynamic. My grandma raised my mother and three sons. At only 13-yrs-old, my “Nana,” as I call her, traveled from Guadalajara, Mexico to Northern California on her own. Here, she found employment as a migrant worker. Later, she settled her family here in Pico Rivera and began running her very own restaurant in Montebello.

My mother achieved a two-year education at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise (FIDM), graduating while pregnant with my older brother.

I realize my living here in Pico Rivera is partially due to the proximity in which my Nana lives to my high school. I’ve also come to realize that my mother fears the possibility that I will never leave my childhood town.

Due to my family circumstances, it was necessary for me to mature at an early age. Ever since I was a young child, I knew that college would always be the ultimate priority and that furthering my education would give me the opportunity to provide a better life for those who mean the most to me.

The ideal life for me would be giving my Nana that house of her dreams, aiding my siblings in whatever path they chose to take, and giving my mother a life in which she will never worry, work, or toil another day in her life.

Today, I constantly worry and sometimes feel afraid of anything that may get in the way of my chances of getting into college. This inspires me to be committed to my studies. I spend close to every day on campus, often up until 6 or 8 o’clock at night. Sometimes I feel that my staying so late on campus is an inconvenience for my mother, that all my work in school will be for naught, and that I won’t leave this town.

I‘m currently taking three A.P. classes here at El Rancho High School. I treasure being in as many extra-curricular activities as possible. I’m in the Advanced Drama Department, the Academic Decathlon, and in several clubs.

College seems both so far away and yet simply around the corner. My academic career is still young. My time with Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera has reassured me that I am not alone in my endeavors towards college. This organization makes me feel that when the time comes around for me to start applying to colleges, I will be accepted into a college or university, where I’ll be successful and very happy.


Collegiate Corner: El Rancho High School Alumnus Jeffrey Valenzuela

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Being the first in my family to attend a four-year university, a tremendous amount of pressure has been put on me to succeed. I come from a single-parent household in which my mother works various long hours to provide for her four boys. After high school, my two older brothers, Marvin and Alex, had to put a hold on their college education in order to help my mother financially. Thanks to my mother and two older brothers, my family and I were able to live a pretty stable life. However, there was never really enough money to take a family vacation or buy and enjoy luxurious items. As a family, we understood our financial situation. We knew it was more important to pay for things that were a necessity, such as groceries, school supplies and bills.

At some point, during my studies at El Rancho High School, I felt that I would also have to put a hold on my college education to help my family. When I spoke of this idea to my mother, she told me, “focus on getting into a great college and being a good role model for your little brother, Randy, instead of worrying about the bills.” As much as I wanted to help my mom by getting a job, I knew what she told me would be better in the long run. Getting a degree from a great college could lead to a well-paying career in the future and this in turn would help me to have a stable financial life. I’d plan to have enough to help repay my mother for all the sacrifices she has made for me. It also helped that I stayed home, with my mom and my brothers working constantly, Randy and I were left alone usually every day of the week. It became my responsibility to raise and babysit him and to ensure he did all his homework.

While being an adult figure for my little brother, I also tried to keep my promise to my mother to do well in school by getting straight A’s whenever possible. I balanced my schoolwork while participating in two sports, soccer and track. I must admit that it was very challenging to balance all of these activities throughout high school but I’m so glad I was able to do it.

Every time I was at a soccer game, a track meet, or an award ceremony, it was very heartbreaking being one of the few kids whose parents or family could not show up because they were too busy with work. It often made my mother very sad to not witness me accepting an academic award or sport medal at a social event. I often hid these occasions from her in order to prevent her from feeling depressed about missing some of her son’s best moments in high school.

Although I got good grades throughout high school, I always felt that if I didn’t get into a prestigious university, that all my hard work would have gone to waste. Therefore, at the beginning of my senior year, I searched for as much information about applying to college as I could. I couldn’t look to my older brothers for help since they didn’t go to four-year colleges. Luckily, El Rancho High School heavily promoted the Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera program. This organization was heavily devoted to helping students get into college. They held various workshops that discussed the college application process and how to apply for financial aid, along with offering various scholarships for students to take advantage of.

Without the help of Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, I would have never felt comfortable applying to big name schools without worrying about being rejected or not being able to afford tuition. This organization has played a significant role in my decision to apply to UCLA, where I am currently a Sophomore and studying biology. My hopes are to become a doctor in the near future.

Collegiate Corner: El Rancho High School Alumna Mayra Gradilla

Editor’s Note:

Pico Rivera resident Mayra Gradilla graduated from El Rancho High School in 2010 and obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Psychology from Pomona College. She is  currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Urban Education from Loyola Marymount University through Teach for America. We were so moved by her personal journey that we asked her to share it with us. 

By Mayra Gradilla

As I walked through the halls of the Longworth House Building, one of the three office buildings used by the United States House of Representatives, I could not believe that I had the opportunity to intern in our nation’s capitol. I remember seeing the United States Capitol building in pictures many times as a child, but nothing prepared me for the experience I was about to receive.  My mind raced thinking about how much of our country’s history had taken place within the Capitol. Being there, I could not help but contemplate my own journey.

I was born in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles, and raised in Pico Rivera. I am the third of four children; I have two older brothers and a younger sister. My parents came to the United States from Mexico for the same reason many immigrants journey here—in search of a better future.  Back in Mexico, my parents did not have the opportunity to study beyond elementary school. They helped support their respective families by working in agriculture. When my parents came to the United States, they made it a priority to always stress the importance of education in all of our lives.  As such, prioritizing education has always been at the forefront of all of our minds.

In one generation, my parents went from not having anyone study beyond elementary school, to their children being fortunate enough to attend some of the leading institutions of higher learning in the world; Harvard University, Stanford University, Pomona College, and Yale University. When my siblings and I were growing up, our parents always encouraged us to do anything that we set our minds to do. Although we lacked financial resources, my parents knew that we lived in a country that provided many resources to get us to where we wanted to be. For example, we applied for scholarships and college preparatory programs that would help us get to college. These resources exist and it is important to look for them. They exist for the sole purpose of helping students like myself (those that are from low-income and low-opportunity communities) because they expose students to different perspectives and experiences than they are used to. The world is diverse and it is important to be exposed to different perspectives and explore them.  My parents always stood behind us and encouraged us to pursue any opportunity that presented itself to us. It did not matter if it was not close to home or not. My parents wanted us to grow and knew that there were great opportunities that were not close to home. They knew that we would have to leave at some point to be able to grow.  I have therefore experienced first-hand that education drastically changes the lives of people.

Undoubtedly, being able to pursue higher education has drastically changed my family’s life. Pursuing higher education has afforded me diverse experiences. One of the most impactful experiences has been the opportunity to intern with Congresswoman Grace Napolitano. I was able to witness the federal legislative process. I was fortunate to have this experience due to The Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation. Without their help, I would have not been able to live and work in DC the summer after my sophomore year in college.

It is critical that students take chances and seek opportunities for their educational, personal, and professional enrichment. I hope that current high school students do the same because going to college opens up many doors and opportunities.

For me, I plan to spread this message to students that hail from communities like the one I grew up in. I have done so this past year teaching at a high school through Teach For America and I plan to continue teaching. I hope to remain connected to the Education field because I want other students to experience for themselves education’s transformative power.