Working Together to Give Students Higher Aspirations… by Lisa Keller
I serve as a HandsOn Schools VISTA in San Bernardino County, CA. Along with Sara Clark; I’m working to expand a college access program called Promise Scholars in the Ontario-Montclair School District(OMSD.) The students at the targeted schools are low income (85% free/reduced meal rate), 95.5% are ethnic minorities, and nearly half are English Language Learners. OMSD students receive inadequate formal educational guidance from their families and from the larger community because of the lack of experience of parents in navigating the educational pipeline. At some of the highest need schools, 50% of parents have not completed high school. Promise Scholars exists to help bridge the gap by providing students with early and consistent information and encouragement toward post-secondary education. There is also a scholarship available for students who graduate from the program and attend one of our partner colleges.
My main role in the program is to coordinate visits to community colleges for fifth graders and to four-year colleges and universities for eighth graders. So far, I’ve set up more than twelve visits for this year, and I’m constantly networking in hopes of adding more schools. This week, we met with Crafton Hills College President Cheryl Marshall, who was very excited about Promise Scholars. One of her staff even offered to take an extra school on the spot! The meeting reminded me that my favorite part of this program is working with so many community partners who are excited about getting our kids to college. Businesses, colleges, parents, and teachers all realize that investing in these young people is investing in the future. Nowhere was this more evident than in our official program kickoff event on November 14. Many of our partners and sponsors came together with school district officials and principals to express their support for Promise Scholars with speeches and big checks!
I am also working closely with the City of Ontario to promote their Reindeer Run 5K to all of our students and staff. This year, the proceeds from the race will benefit Promise Scholars, and the school with the most participation will win $1000. Many of the principals and teachers are getting competitive in anticipation of the December 8 run. I have been out to visit various schools to talk with them about it, and Sara Clark (my co-VISTA) sometimes comes along dressed in a full reindeer costume! The kids love giving Rudolph a high five, and we were even asked to visit with some special needs preschoolers at one site. The teachers were extremely excited to see some of the kids reaching out to touch the reindeer and smiling at her. If you are interested in learning more about the race, you can visit