Meet Yvette Torres, Be A Leader Foundation Coordinator

Welcome back to all our students. My name is Yvette Torres and I am the High School Coordinator for Be A Leader Foundation- Pico Rivera. I am a First Generation College Graduate from the University of California, Irvine with a BA in Education Studies and Psychology and Social Behavior.

As the first person in my family to pursue a college degree, I was completely lost in the transition from high school to college and had to figure out how to navigate the system on my own. I was not sure of what classes to take, where to go ask for help, what loans to accept, or the importance of internships and networking during college.

If it wasn’t for the amazing support from my high school teachers, I would not have been able to graduate from UCI and find my passion in helping First Generation Students achieve a higher education.

As the High School Coordinator for Be A Leader, I am given the opportunity to help students, with stories very similar to my own, explore the different options of higher education. Most importantly, I serve as a mentor during the transition from high school to college.

I run the Be A Leader Club, where we help foster a college going environment at ERHS. I also work closely with our Senior Boot Camp Students to assist them with the college application process, financial aid, and helping them make their final decision of where to go to college.

This year, I am excited to start our Be A Leader Alumni Support Group as we reach out to our Be A Leader graduates on their journey through college, to offer mentorship, so they do not feel lost in their transition into college.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work with G1DPR and Be A Leader to help students reach their goals and work toward G1DPR’s mission of having a college degree in every home.

I’m amazed by the support that students and alumni are given through all the programs that G1DPR sponsors. It’s great to work with an organization that understands the importance of helping students go to college, but ultimately ensuring they finish their education and succeed.

Meet Michelle Sandoval, Be A Leader’s New Project Manager

This month we caught up with Michelle Sandoval, Be A Leader’s new Project Manager, for an introductory Q&A.

We’re excited to welcome Michelle as part of our G1DPR family and look forward to all of our students and parents meeting her.

What is your new role with Be A Leader and G1DPR?

I am the newest Project Manager for the Be A Leader Foundation- Pico Rivera. I am responsible for overseeing the curriculum development for the Senior students in our group, to assist them in achieving their fullest potential as they complete the college application process. Additionally, my role implements and executes college-focused activities that expand into the community, such as college visits, workshops and panels.

Tell us about your background: Where did you grow up and where did you go to high school & college?

I am the proud daughter of Mexican and Guatemalan immigrant parents, born and raised in a small town located in the heart of the Coachella Valley. I completed high school at Desert Hot Springs High School and, as the first college graduate in my family, received my Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, with a minor in Communication, from Stanford University.

What was your college application process and college experience like? Who guided you?

The experience for me was very much like throwing a dart at a bullseye, while blindfolded. Although I was valedictorian of my class and had challenged myself extensively – for example, I had completed two courses at UC-Riverside as a Junior in high school, my position as a daughter of immigrants whose first language was Spanish, meant that I counted on my parents for the moral support to get through the college application process but was very much on my own when it came to completing the forms themselves. The guidance I received came in the form of the “can do” attitude that my parents instilled in me, which ultimately allowed for me to succeed in researching and informing myself as much about the process as I could.

What inspires you to help Be A Leader/G1DPR students be successful – what do you want our students and parents to know about the support they can receive?

The application process was one of the most stressful periods for me in my academic career. I had done everything that I possibly could to demonstrate the kind of competitive student I was; however, I felt so alone. I want my students to know that I have been there, my parents have been there, and that they do not have to do it alone just because I did. It takes a village for a child to succeed. And, we are the village that is going to support their family throughout the college process.

What are your goals for Be A Leader this first semester?

My goals are to strengthen and empower the participating Senior Boot Camp students in preparation for their college applications. Also, I would like to increase the mentorship role that the Senior students play in the lives of the underclassmen Be A Leader Club members through educational activities and visibility within the community.

What message would you like to extend to our G1DPR family – students, parents, & community?

We CAN do it. Not alone, but together. ¡Juntos podemos!


The Class of 2017 has the ”Write” Stuff to Apply to College

By: Marla Kelley, Director of Communications – The College Blueprint

What a great outcome we’ve had this year. El Rancho High School’s Class of 2017 joined The College Blueprint this summer for our highly anticipated summer essay program.

The students spent the three days of the program in the essay workshop, brainstorming one on one with their coaches, then writing, editing and finalizing their personal statements. In addition, our College Counselor Tavy Tung-Murphy and College Counselor and Academic Coach, Sahar Zandi, worked with them on finalizing their college lists, and provided them information on the application process and on financial aid and scholarship resources.

In total we worked with 40 students this summer. Our group of students grasped the writing process very quickly. They did so well that I will be adding them to my collection of El Rancho stories and will be using them as future examples.

Our returning essay coach was Jordan Kelley – this was his third year in this program and he always says it is his favorite and that it’s the most rewarding. He leaves with the stories of these students embedded in his heart.

New essay coaches to the program this year were Gabrielle Elias and Sheila Silver. They both brought some amazing talent. Gabrielle is a 2015 graduate with a degree in English from Cal Berkeley and Sheila Silver is a retired English teacher and former California Teacher of the Year. They were touched by the stories and loved the enthusiasm of these students.

The summer days went by quickly. As we were still working on the last essays right up till the last day it felt a little anticlimactic when we said goodbye. As always, we felt close to the students we worked with and we’re looking forward to following up with them to learn where they decide to finally apply and where they get accepted.

There is something very special about the El Rancho kids and this group was no different. All in all, I think the experience was well received by everyone; the students left with a list and a personal statement and a lot of optimism about the application process!

I remain honored to be a part of this program, which I hold near and dear to my heart; I truly appreciate the opportunity to work with El Rancho High School’s rising seniors each year. Having already met the enthusiastic, standing-room-only members of the class of 2018, I’m guessing next summer’s program will prove equally rewarding.

Reaping a College Harvest

This summer, our students had the opportunity to experience the benefits of last winter’s Senior Boot Camp Fundraising Campaign.

Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera’s first fundraising efforts raised $10K last December. This personal commitment and generosity allowed 65 students to attend the Be A Leader Senior Boot Camp this June and July.

With your gracious help, our students have spent the summer applying to colleges and universities, preparing for ACT and SAT exams, and completing scholarship and financial aid applications.

The array of topics covered are helping to inform and enrich our students’ college application journey. “We’ve covered a little of everything. We’re working on creating a College and Career Portfolio that will help them through the application process. So every workshop has been focused around a part of the portfolio. This includes: Personal Statements for the UC application, Personal Essays for the Common Application, resumes, cover letters, professional email etiquette, descriptions for activities and community service, recommendation letters, and helping them prepare to apply for scholarships and for taking either the SAT or ACT,” explained Be A Leader Project Manager, Alma Renteria.

One of the highlights of the Senior Boot Camp is that G1DPR students have the opportunity to go on college visits or “College Exploration Days,” with the program. This summer, students visited colleges throughout the state, including: CSULA, UCLA, SDSU and UCSD.

“The benefits of the College Exploration Days are definitely exposure. Many of our students, if not the majority, have had very minimal exposure to college campuses and are afraid of applying in the fall to schools they’ve never visited. Through campus visits, students get that first-hand experience at being on a campus. They also get to decide whether or not they are interested in applying to those schools after all. Overall, it allows them to explore new options they wouldn’t have otherwise considered,” said Renteria.

Each season that passes by, we get closer to our ultimate goal of having a college degree in every Pico Rivera home. Your support in our first G1DPR fundraiser means so much to us. Thank you for standing behind our students and we promise to continue sharing their success stories as our journey with them continues.



College Readiness Checklist for Parents

By the School Community Network

As May begins, high school seniors are enjoying their final weeks in school before graduation. In just a few months, they will be stepping onto college campuses for the first time and beginning a new chapter in their lives.

Twenty-five percent of college students drop out in their freshman year because they are not academically, emotionally or financially prepared for college life and adulthood. College takes planning and preparation. Fortunately, there are things that parents can do to make sure that their child is ready for what will be one of the biggest transitions of his or her life.

Here’s a college readiness checklist to make sure your high school grads are prepared for what’s waiting for them on campus. (Teachers, you may wish to pass this on to your students’ parents.)

Arrange for them to speak formally to a recent college grad.

No one can give your child better advice than a family friend who has recently completed college and found a career in their chosen field. Encourage your child to speak with them about what it takes to be successful in college and what, if anything, they may have done differently.

Teach them the ins-and-outs of their college finances.

Students are more likely to take college seriously if they understand how their college finances work. To show them the importance of making the most out of their education on a day-in, day-out basis, go beyond yearly tuition totals and review the cost breakdown of each individual class. Also show them the benefit that finishing in four years will have on their long-term financial future.

Have them start building their network — now.

Some of the most important connections your child can make in college are ones that begin before they even set foot on campus. Encourage them to speak with their future roommate, other high school classmates who are attending the same college, and student officers in the clubs your child may be interested in joining. Sites like will allow your child to connect with future classmates who may share similar interests. And when your child arrives at school, urge them to participate in activities and meet new people.

Help them learn to manage their time.

Encourage them to use a digital calendar to keep track of appointments and deadlines. Many students arrive at college not knowing how to manage their time effectively. Digital calendars, such as Google Calendar or Apple’s iCal, can be accessed from a smartphone or tablet, allowing students to stay on top of their schedule no matter where they are.

Make sure they get to know their faculty advisor.

Making big decisions like picking a major or following a career path can be daunting, causing students to put them off as long as possible. Faculty advisors, provided to students by most colleges, can help take the fear out of the process. Make sure your child develops a relationship with their faculty advisor as early as possible to ensure their choices are well informed.

Show them how to use social media beyond photos on Facebook.

College-age students are among the most active users of social media, but how many are aware of the ways it can benefit them academically and professionally? Have your child talk with recent grads who have used social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to help build their academic network and market themselves as professionals. Additionally, sites like can help students get a feel for their school’s culture before stepping foot on campus.

Equip them with the right technology.

To succeed in college, students need technology that works with the latest tools and systems being used in the classroom. Only a few years ago, this simply meant buying the latest model laptop. These days, as colleges introduce more technology into the classroom, students are using a combination of devices — such as tablets, smartphones and e-readers — to stay on top of their coursework and connect with classmates. Check the school’s technology guidelines before making any major purchases.

Pushing Boundaries On Every Degree

By Alma Renteria, Be A Leader, Project Manager

When I see my leaders walk into the College and Career Center with a large envelope in hand and a smile from ear to ear, I can’t help but feel proud.

I’ve been helping students apply to college for over four years now. At first, I helped because I didn’t want students to feel lost in the process- as a first generation student myself, I remember how complicated the whole process felt.

Upon college graduation, I made it a goal to do my best to help other first generation students apply and give themselves more options than I gave myself. In joining Be A Leader, this goal has become my day-to-day. For the last 11 months, I’ve had the opportunity to guide and prepare these students on how to brand themselves and explore the array of options available for their future. While the process itself was lengthy, complex and sometimes very draining, the results have been worth the endless hours spent going over applications.

As College Signing Day approaches, I feel a sense of excitement and sadness, as I realize it’s all coming to an end; still I could not feel more proud of how much these leaders have accomplished. This year, we had more acceptances than ever before. Our students have applied to more out of states than last year and to twice as many more scholarships.

On College Signing Day, all their hard work will be celebrated but most importantly, they will have the opportunity to publicly share their accomplishments. While in prior years we have celebrated the Ivy League acceptances, this is the first year we get to truly celebrate ALL our students. Truth is, regardless of where they decide to attend, their acceptance into 4 year institutions is not only benefiting their future, but the future of Pico Rivera.

While the majority of my students are first generation students, their acceptances are changing the narrative for their families as college will now be the norm. This is in itself the greatest gift of all for me, as I know that the ripple effects of their accomplishments will impact our community in many ways. I hope they too see the difference they’re making and the role models they are becoming for our future leaders.

Jorge Padilla, EAOP- UC Irvine, Regional Coordinator

My name is Jorge Padilla and I am the new Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) Regional Coordinator for El Rancho High School, funded in part by Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera. EAOP is a college prep program that increases the academic preparation and college-going rates of the students and schools it serves. EAOP provides several collaborative programs such as Academic Advising, Test Prep, and Parent Engagement.

There are two UC Irvine undergraduates currently serving El Rancho High School: Cecilia Garcia and Daphne Dueñas. These EAOP Student Coordinators provide students with one-on-one academic advisement and mentorship, instruct students on strategic class selection towards fulfilling A-G requirements, and provide guidance regarding preparation for college.

We have some great opportunities coming up for students in April, including a workshop for 11th grade students and a field trip to UC Irvine on April 16th. We also have a freshman workshop scheduled in early May. Be on the lookout for those flyers and invitations, Dons!

As for myself, I’m originally from Echo Park in Los Angeles. I graduated from UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) with a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Latin American-Latino Studies and recently graduated from UC Irvine with a Masters of Urban & Regional Planning. I’m very proud to have been a student of the University of California and I fully support and encourage students to strive to be UC-bound by their senior year.

During my time at UCSC, I worked as a Peer Advisor for the Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP) office. This experience instilled in me a passion for serving students and ensuring their success, just like Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera is doing for you.

When I moved on from UCSC, I continued to serve students at SteppingUP, a non-profit college awareness program in central Orange County. Here I worked with high school students and helped prepare them for their trajectory in higher education.

I’m very happy to now be working with Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera and to be surrounded by a very supportive staff, especially the staff at El Rancho. I look forward to serving students at El Rancho High School with the same support and attention they’ve received in the past to ensure they are well prepared and ready to enter college, equipped with the tools and knowledge necessary to succeed, and ready to make the best of their college experience.


Program Partner Spotlight: Be A Leader, College Bound and Leadership Ready

Be A Leader Foundation’s Senior Boot Camp is another one of Generation 1st Degree’s programs aimed at helping students be college-ready. Through an intensive summer program consisting of weekly three-hour workshops for the 8-week “Summer Boot Camp, ” seniors are provided support and guidance through the college application process, personal statement guidance and college exploration opportunities by visiting multiple colleges.

This summer, over 80 seniors were invited to the Be A Leader Summer Boot Camp hosted at El Rancho High School. In addition to summer school, summer jobs, and summer internships, these seniors made the time to attend the morning or afternoon three-hour sessions, with the goal of preparing themselves to demonstrate their well-roundedness.
Each week, as part of the session, different professionals were invited to share about their profession and provide advice and assistance as students explored their career interests. Invited guests included a Spanish teacher, an Immigration Attorney, a Politician, a College Admissions Counselor, among others.

Additionally, to provide more college exploration opportunities, Be A Leader hosted two field trips in which students visited a total of six campuses. The first field trip took students to Whittier College, USC and CSULA. The second college exploration trip consisted of visiting UCI, Chapman University and CSU Fullerton. At each college, students had the opportunity of embarking on a campus tour as well as enjoying student panels and admissions presentations.

Given that Be A Leader also focuses on the leadership development of students, students were also offered the opportunity to participate in community service by volunteering with the City of Pico Rivera’s Summer Meal program. This took place at different parks throughout the city. Through community engagement, students were able to further build a solid foundation for their already well-rounded resumes.

Thanks to the generous sponsorship by Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera, this summer’s Senior Boot Camp was a great success. Students ended the summer with multiple drafts of personal statements, awareness of the four types of higher education, and an understanding of scholarships. They also came away with interests in liberal arts colleges, excitement towards exploring out-of-state options and an immense eagerness and confidence to start the application process.

“Before the workshops I thought I’m not rich, nor are my grades fantastic, so I’m going to community college, but I learned here that I can go to any college I want to as long as I work for it,” said Valerie Ann Viray, one of our proud student leaders.

Valerie’s feelings towards college were shared by many of her classmates. Their lack of awareness regarding the college admissions process and the involvement of comprehensive reviews, when looking at applications, had them feeling at a disadvantage in comparison to many of their counterparts in more affluent communities.

Through this summer program and their exposure into the world of college admissions, they were able to gain confidence as they saw themselves as more than numbers; their stories suddenly had a new meaning and their dreams and aspirations were validated.

Alma Renteria, who leads the Senior Boot Camp, shares her students’ excitement as she plans for the rest of the school year. “After a successful summer, I know the real work begins as soon as they start their senior year. We have our monthly Saturday workshops booked for the rest of the year to ensure students continue to receive guidance and understand that they are not applying alone. Their goals are now my goals and it is the most satisfying job to know that I get to be a part of helping them achieve success,” she said.

As part of their plan to reach more students, Be A Leader has also started their Be A Leader Club at El Rancho High School, which aims to recruit 9th-11th graders interested in participating in community service, college exploration days and career shadow days. Exposure has been a key focus for Be A Leader and with the club, they hope to reach more students, at an earlier time. This will help prepare them to be more competitive and well-rounded scholars, come their time to apply.

Be A Leader is excited to continue working with El Rancho and has Alma Renteria, the Project Manager, based at El Rancho’s Career Center to ensure easy access to students. Under G1D’s leadership, Be A Leader looks forward to continuing working in collaboration with the other programs offered on campus, as the foundation understands that “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera Program Partner Spotlight – The College Blueprint

The College Blueprint, one of Generation 1st Degree’s programs aimed at helping kids succeed in college, is busy at work providing professional college planning and test preparation guidance for students throughout the school year. This summer, they enjoyed hosting a College Planning Summer Intensive Program for the Class of 2016.

On a warm Monday morning in July, while other teenagers were sound asleep, 55 students arrived at El Rancho High School eager to explore their paths to college. Most will be the first in their family to attend a four-year university and all were determined to obtain a college degree in order to build a solid foundation for their future.

Sponsored by Generation 1st Degree, and designed by Jan Kerchner and Marla Kelley, this Summer’s Intensive College Blueprint Program for the Class of 2016 was a great success. In six sessions over a two week period students were guided by experienced College Blueprint counselors through Career Exploration, College and Major Research and Scholarship Research. The students even participated in a mock admission committee in which they determined whether applicants were offered or denied admission to their fictitious college, based on application data and personal statements. By the end of the program each student had the opportunity to formulate a personalized college list, and complete a resume.

“One of the most challenging components of the program is for each student to brainstorm, draft and finalize a personal statement essay for their college applications,” said Marla Kelley. She taught a workshop to provide an overview approach to the essay writing process, then brought in Essay Coaches Jordan Kelley, Jason Lee and Andre Na to work one-on-one with each student to accomplish that challenge. “It is a privilege and a great opportunity for me to help these students tell their stories in a way that demonstrates to college admission officers where they come from and who they are,” said Jordan Kelley, who also served as an essay coach in last summer’s college planning program.

“The student feedback was very positive,” commented Jan Kerchner, founder and Director of The College Blueprint. “There was a great appreciation for the counselors’ knowledge, and the opportunities for individual consultation and editing with the essay coaches.”

On the last day of the program the students were treated to some surprises. The Essay Coaches shared some of their favorite essays, anonymously. Reading them aloud, each coach ended to appreciative applause from the students in respect for the stories written by their peers. As the scent of Papa John’s pizza filled the library, Jacki Cisneros, founder of the Generation 1st Degree Foundation, appeared with prizes for the final day raffle.

Students were given raffle tickets for attendance and for participating in spirit wear opportunities. Lucky students won gift cards to In-N-Out and Starbucks and one student won the grand prize, a Chromebook donated by Assistant District Superintendent Dr. Roxane Fuentes.

Finally, the students enjoyed their lunch, goodbyes and hugs were given, and 55 rising seniors at El Rancho High School left the program with an essay, a college plan and high hopes for their future.

Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera Program Partner Spotlight – Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP)

For the last three years, Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera has partnered with the Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) at University of California, Irvine (UCI) to increase the academic preparation and college attendance rates of Pico Rivera students.

El Rancho High School graduate Mariela Padilla (class of 2015) said her involvement in EAOP had a significant impact on her college future. She is now planning to attend UCI this fall as a biology major.

“I had a student coordinator help me step-by-step of the college application process and I would not have been able to do everything by myself,” said Padilla. “It was so overwhelming, and I took advantage of all the opportunities EAOP could offer. One of the things I also enjoyed was the fieldtrip to UCI, as it gave me the opportunity to speak to different college students, get a tour of the campus, and become more familiar with what UCI had to offer.”

EAOP provides the following higher education access at El Rancho High School:

  • Academic enrichment
  • Academic advising
  • Test preparation
  • Parent engagement services

As the largest University of California academic preparation program for nearly 40 years, EAOP works directly with students at underserved schools to increase the number of students achieving a college degree. This past school year, EAOP provided over 45 presentations on college preparation and served more than 770 ERHS students.

In addition to the school year program, EAOP welcomes students to their summer residential programs on the UC Irvine campus. Participants in the Transfer Leadership Collaborative (TLC), and College Finances Institute (CFI) learn about the various pathways to achieve and pay for a college degree, while experiencing college life in the dorms.

Students and their families are encouraged to learn more about EAOP at ERHS by getting in touch with EAOP regional coordinator Cecilia Leyva, or any of the UCI undergraduate student coordinators that are available at the ERHS College and Career Center. The staff works to assist students (of all grade levels) with their A-G requirements, and also offers advice on challenging academic courses, volunteerism and school activity participation.

“Every year, it gets more competitive for students to be admitted to a 4-year institution, and through extracurricular activities, students can demonstrate their commitment to their education, field of study, and the different skills that they were able to develop” said Leyva.   “Programs such as EAOP help expose students to new opportunities and develop skills that will ultimately enable them to become successful college students.”

EAOP Facts:

  • EAOP students complete A-G requirements, enroll in college, and graduate from college at higher rates
  • 79% of EAOP students complete A-G requirements, compared to 39% of California graduates
  • The UC enrollment rate of EAOP graduates is three times higher than the rest of California graduates (21% compared to 7%)
  • From the UCI EAOP class of 2009, 77% obtained a degree, compared to the national average of 56%
  • EAOP students set their goals high, and achieve those goals!

For more information about this program, please contact EAOP regional coordinator Cecilia Leyva at or call 949-824-5705.