Back to School? Get the Summer Rewind

Over the Summer, Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera’s Be A Leader – Senior Boot Camp program prepared incoming seniors for the college application process. The Senior Boot Camp provided sixty-five students with the opportunity to participate in a series of college preparation workshops that took place on a college campus. Students benefited from the program’s guidance in the college admission application process and also learned how to craft a resume, an activity that helped many of the students secure summer internships and jobs.

Selfie by comedian Ernie G. Gritzewsky with Bryan Cortes, Alejandra Gomez, Michelle Sandoval, and the students

Students participated in six group sessions and two one-on-one sessions with our project manager, Michelle Sandoval. One area of focus was on peer and professional editing of resumes as well as writing and editing the students’ college personal statements. Students received a visit from UCSB Admissions officials to discuss the UC application and how to successfully be admitted to UCSB specifically. The students received a visit from a career panel, which included comedian Ernie G. Gritzewsky and inspirational speaker Bryan Cortes. The panelists’ overall goal was to empower the students to “Be A Leader.” The students also had the opportunity to visit and explore college campuses including Pomona and Pitzer Colleges.

Julio Ornelas, the Vice President of the Be A Leader Club, said, “One thing that I learned from the Summer Boot Camp is that I can afford college with the help of grants, loans, and many scholarships.” Other students applied what they learned and had immediate results like Isaiah Avina, who landed his first summer job at Hollister following the resume writing workshop. Leanne Payan shared, “I learned how to build a resume at the Be A Leader Boot Camp.” Leanne successfully received an offer to be an intern at a law firm in Los Angeles. She spent four weeks over summer shadowing a lawyer and helping him maintain the medical records for his clients’ cases.

Now that the Be A Leader Senior Boot Camp program is a wrap, participating students will be ready to take on the challenge of completing their college applications this Fall!

What Have We Done?

Every organization takes the time to pause and review what was done over the past years to see what can be done to deliver on promises made. The same holds true for us! Here are some of the milestones that we have hit over the past few years:

  • For the 2014-2015 school year, Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera empowered 1,261 students to reach for higher education
  • Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera and its partners hosted 84 workshops and sessions including:
    • 13 personal statement workshops where students prepared personal statements for their college applications reaching 390 students
    • 2 parent workshops that reached nearly 300 parents
    • A career day with more than 37 participating organizations
    • 10 scholarship marathons where students learned about and applied for multiple scholarships to offset tuition costs
    • A 4-day college tour where students visited several California Universities
    • Dozens of specific workshops geared towards Juniors and Seniors
    • Faculty seminars
    • Test prep and academic advisement
  • In 2014-2015, an average of 98% of our partner program students have gone on to college.
  • We have given away more than 35,000 books to Kindergarteners in 5 years

We are sharing this with you to inspire you to support Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera! We hope you might find a reason, or 1,261 reasons to support our mission of having a college degree in every home in Pico Rivera!


My Solar Movement

By Armando Godoy-Velasquez

My hometown of Pico Rivera is located on the southeast side of Los Angeles where solar panels are not very popular. Many residents seem reluctant to accept solar panels, mostly because they have misconceptions about solar modules causing more damage versus saving money while protecting the environment. My efforts in spreading solar awareness lead me to many road blocks and hectic arguments because I was not well-informed on the topic. I decided that I could better explain to those who oppose it how much more productive solar panels are as a method of energy production if I learned more about it.

Monday through Thursday for five continuous weeks, I traveled by bus for an hour and a half to attend the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) Academy at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. I participated in the Environmental and Building Sciences field where I took two courses on solar electricity. I learned the fundamentals of how solar modules worked and gained hands-on experience. Assembling a charging station for phones gave me a sense of innovativeness, even though I had really not created something new. With a few guest speakers from Solar City, the biggest solar company in the U.S, I found a new sense of responsibility to spread the knowledge I had gained into my community.

Every Tuesday in the summer after my STEAM Academy courses, I rushed over to El Rancho High School by bus to attend G1DPR’s Be A Leader Senior Boot Camp meetings. Alma Renteria, the Be A Leader project manager at the time, was aware of my involvement in the STEAM Academy. While covering essay topics at a meeting, Alma encouraged me to create a proposal for Jacki Cisneros for a sponsorship to bring the “green initiative” to Pico Rivera. My proposal highlighted how the lack of exposure to solar energy within our community inspired me to create an after school program for middle school students in Pico Rivera to give them the same experience I had in the STEAM Academy. With the help of Jacki Cisneros from Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, I was able start a series of monthly solar workshops at the STEAM Academy at Burke Middle School. I realized that I could “kill 2 birds with one stone” by spreading solar awareness as I had originally planned, while also planting seeds in our future generation of movers and shakers. Using all the material I learned during my own time at the STEAM Academy, I created small, unit-based projects that would provide students exposure to solar energy. I, along with my LA Trade Tech professor, show students in the program how to wire panels together, connect them to appliances and power other items using solar energy.

While I know there is still a long way to go, being able to spark conversations about solar energy and its importance within my community feels like a start to something exciting. Our communities deserve the best, and I want to ensure that as a whole, we continue to create awareness about the damages of pollution and the importance behind solar energy.

Armando’s Solar Workshops take place once a month at the STEAM Academy at Burke Middle School, from 4 p.m to 6 p.m. Class is limited to 20 students on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, contact or Mr. Parra in room 4.



Our 5th Annual Kindergarten Book Giveaway: Paving the Way to College!

More than 800 Pico Rivera kindergartners will receive 10 new books for their own home literacy library! We are teaming up with the El Rancho Unified School District for the 5th year to help local early readers start their very own literacy library to foster reading proficiency and comprehension.  At each elementary school in the district and at two local private schools, Jacki Cisneros, president and co-founder of Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, along with school officials, will distribute bags of books for kindergarten students at several school assemblies next week.

Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera recognizes that the pathway to college starts in kindergarten. To support its mission of achieving one college degree in every Pico Rivera home, G1DPR will donate 10 brand new books to approximately 800 kindergarten students living in Pico Rivera.

“This event has a more significant meaning that extends beyond receiving books,” says Jacki Cisneros. “It gives us an opportunity to highlight how important it is for children to maintain, and hopefully surpass, their required reading level by third grade. This milestone is a huge benchmark as research shows that students who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade are four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time. And if poverty is a factor, then studies show a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer.*

The goal of the book giveaway is to improve literacy and comprehension skills, which ultimately increase each child’s chances of achieving a higher education in the future.

*American Educational Research Association, 2011

Monday, October 24

@ 8:45am: Birney Elementary, 8501 Orange Ave., Pico Rivera 90660

@10:00am: Magee Elementary, 8200 Serapis Ave., Pico Rivera 90660

Tuesday, October 25

@ 8:45am: Rivera Elementary, 7250 Citronell Ave., Pico Rivera, 90660

@10:00am: Valencia Elementary, 9241 East Cosgrove St., Pico Rivera 90660

Wednesday, October 26

@ 8:45am: Rio Vista Elementary, 8809 Coffman-Pico Rd., Pico Rivera 90660

@10:00am: South Ranchito Elementary, 5241 South Passons Blvd. Pico Rivera, 90660

Thursday, October 28

@ 8:45am: North Ranchito Elementary, 8837 East Olympic Blvd. Pico Rivera, 90660

@ 10:00am: Durfee Elementary, 4220 South Durfee Ave., Pico Rivera, 90660


Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month With Some Thoughts on Higher Education

Today, nearly one quarter of the students in America’s public schools are Hispanic. By 2030, Hispanics will make up nearly 30% of all Americans in the work force. At the same time, less than 15% of college graduates are Hispanic. Moreover, by 2018, 63% of job openings will require a bachelor’s degree. This points to a sobering realization: Unless we are able to ensure that more Hispanics can get to and through college with a bachelor’s degree or higher, many in our community will be left behind and relegated to low skill employment with little opportunity for advancement or income growth.

Let’s look at this in another way. If 55 million Americans are Hispanic, are we seeing ‘ourselves’ represented in positions of leadership in the community, in healthcare, in education, the arts and in government? And similarly, what sorts of role models are we offering the next generation of Hispanic youth? We must count on this present generation of high school students to disrupt the notion that college is only for the select few and aspire to become a generation of leaders. The impact of the present generation’s success will lay the groundwork for future generations to follow suit.

Over the past few months, via our Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera program, we have had the pleasure of reconnecting with some of ‘our’ students who have made their way to college, and in some cases, just graduated. Our first cohort of Cisneros Hispanic Scholarship Foundation recipients includes John Barrios, a young man who just graduated from Yale and is currently a development analyst for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. He also has his sights set on a master’s degree. We are so deeply proud of his accomplishments to date and can already see the impact of his success on Pico Rivera. John came back to Pico Rivera in June to address the graduating ‘G1Ders’, as we call them, and to share his experiences. The students in attendance left with a clear impression of what to expect in college (hard work) and with tips on how to make the most of the experience (connect with other first generation college students, seek out mentors, make friends, reach out, stay in touch) and, perhaps more importantly, they were able to look a highly successful college graduate in the eye and say: He is just like me.

Jacki and I are committed to doing our part to ensure we have an entire generation of Hispanic college graduates by continuing to support our initiatives in Pico Rivera. We will celebrate with each high school graduate who receives her first acceptance letter to her college of choice and ensure that every student in Pico Rivera, from Kindergarten on up, sees themselves as college graduates and future leaders.

The #BetterMakeRoom Takeover

By: Monica Ochoa — G1DPR Alum & Notre Dame University Sophomore

There’s a saying that goes like this: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

And that’s just what Better Make Room is doing as they’ve partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, to spread the message about the Better Make Room campaign that’s directed at Generation Z (14-19 year olds).

The Better Make Room campaign was created to celebrate education, change the national conversation, and give students the tools they need to reach higher for college. It highlights the possibility of a better education, a better career, and a better future. It also ensures that young people understand the steps, tools and resources available to help them Reach Higher, such as registering for the SAT and ACT, visiting a college campus, filling out FAFSA, and completing at least four college applications.

This month, I took over Better Make Room’s Twitter for a week– here’s what this incredible opportunity showed me.

Better Make Room is empowering as it reaches thousands of aspiring and current college students around the country. It’s all about sharing students’ experiences with others in the hopes of motivating them to pursue an education and lead a successful life.

I immediately felt a personal connection with many of the students sharing on the Better Make Room social media sites. So many of them have been through similar experiences that I’ve been through.

Personally, I love to share my story and help others. Whether it’s about the process of applying to college, financial aid or just sharing a motivating phrase. Having the opportunity and privilege to be a part of Better Make Room allowed me to do what I love – at an even greater magnitude than I ever imagined.

It was such a great experience to see people react positively to my posts. I felt that my voice was being heard around the country. The most valuable lesson I learned in doing this is to remember that I can help others reach the point where I’m at today.

Some students really just need a couple of words of encouragement to hit those ‘Submit’ buttons on their college applications. As a current college student, I feel a responsibility to help students understand that it’s more than worth it to reach for their dreams.

As my fellow El Rancho High School Dons head back to school, I say this: Always keep your goals in mind and fight for them, especially when you’re going through a rough patch. The phrase, “After every storm, there is a rainbow” really is true, no matter how insignificant it may sound. So keep going. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.

I understand that applying for colleges and scholarships can be strenuous, but I promise everyone that an education is absolutely worth it. Don’t stop until you reach your goals, even if it takes one try or a hundred tries.

As I travel back to Notre Dame University for my sophomore year, I can tell you that the reason it’s important for me to still be a part of G1DPR is because I love my community. I love where I come from and I want every single student in Pico Rivera to go to college and have the same opportunities I’ve had. We’re not alone in the struggles we face. I was in your same exact position just a couple of years ago and if I can continue on to college, so can you!

For more information, please go to

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.

An Aggie Discovering Animal Science

Generation First Degree-Pico Rivera was very beneficial and influential for me throughout high school and in my first year of college. Throughout my senior year of high school, G1DPR was an important and consistent support system. They prepared me for the transition I would be facing as an undergraduate student in college.

The personal statement workshops provided by Jacki and Gilbert were very helpful to me when it came time to writing my statement. Having representatives from colleges read my personal statement greatly helped my chances of being accepted into several universities.

The College Summer Send-Off Luncheon, held at the end of the school year, also helped me get an idea of what college would be like. The alumni, and all those that attended, helped me feel a sense of community and this reassured me that no matter how hard times may get, I should never give up. They emphasized that even when the road gets difficult, I should continue to strive for my goals.

This coming fall, I will be a second year student at UC Davis. I’m majoring in the field of Animal Science, where I hope to continue my education at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and ultimately become a Veterinarian.

Even though my first year of college has been a vastly different experience than high school, I believe that all the struggles continue to help me grow as a person and teach me not to take anything for granted. Being of a Latino background, I know how difficult college may seem but I truly believe Generation First Degree Pico Rivera helps prepare students for the transition by giving them the confidence and motivation to prosper.



G1DPR Prepared, Titan Strong

As a senior, the idea of applying to college can be very intimidating. The application process is lengthy and as a first-generation/oldest child, I was left to figure out the process on my own. Thankfully, with the help of Generation First Degree and the Be A Leader program, I was not left to do it all alone. Be A Leader helped me with the whole process; from continuously rewriting my personal statements, to signing up for tests I didn’t know existed, Be A Leader guided me through every step.

Truthfully, G1DPR was such a beneficial program, not only for me but for my peers as well. Under Be A Leader’s support, we all received guidance through college and major explorations, we visited multiple campuses and even had the opportunity to have admission counselors provide feedback to our personal statements. With Alma and Yvette’s support (the Be A Leader staff), the application process felt easier than expected. I, as well as my Be A Leader peers, went to them for assistance with everything such as financial aid, scholarships, finalizing college choices, understanding loans and even down to the final decision between two very different schools.

While most of my time was spent with Alma and Yvette, they always reminded us that there was a team behind the scenes making it possible for us to have access to so many opportunities. I know that two important people behind all of this were Jacki and Gilbert Cisneros and I am immensely grateful for them believing in us, as well as acknowledging our own potential. They invested more than just money in us; they invested time, resources and their network, to help support our dreams.

I am excited to attend Cal State Fullerton this fall and be a Titan. I plan to major in Child Psychiatry. I received all the help possible from Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera and Be A Leader. The Cisneros’ have done so much for this community. I can’t wait to one day come back and join them in their efforts to help ensure there is a college degree in every household in Pico Rivera.