A goal of 10,000 Degrees
Pictured left to right are Sonoma Valley High seniors Alejandra Barajas, Flor Suarez-Plata, Anahi Hernandez, Melissa Bernabe, Maira Sanchez and Tashi Sherpa, all of whom are currently working with 10,000 Degrees volunteer college counselor Mary Poppic Reeves (center) on their college applications.
Sonoma Valley High School senior Jose Heredia-Rodriguez had hit rock bottom when, surrounded by fellow gang members, he was in deep trouble and on the verge of being expelled from school. “I never felt like I belonged anywhere. But when I was in the worst trouble, my teachers came to my defense and showed they truly supported me and believed in me and I realized that where I belonged, truly belonged, was at school.”
Today, Heredia-Rodriguez is student body president at Sonoma Valley High School and is applying to a host of colleges. His first choices are St. Mary’s College in Moraga and Santa Clara University. He is being helped along the way by the college access organization, 10,000 Degrees.
With new Sonoma office space in a Victorian on Broadway, 10,000 Degrees is a 21-year-old organization with the lofty goal of helping 10,000 low-income Bay Area students on the path to college via college counseling, mentoring and scholarships. And they have an impressive track record of success.
Eighty-four percent of the students they work with graduate from four-year colleges, compared to 24 percent nationally. This is particularly notable given that the majority of these low-income students are the first in their families to attend college.
Formerly called the Marin Education Fund, 10,000 Degrees has recently expanded its college planning and preparation programs in Sonoma, Solano and Contra Costa counties. Today, it is led by a board chairman, Graham Brandt, himself an alumnus of the program. The organization recently won a $100,000 grant because of its demonstrated impact and readiness to grow. The aim is to serve 10,000 students (hence the name) by the end of 2015 (up from 2,500 today), and 20,000 students by 2020.
One of their most successful initiatives is the Summer Intensive program.
Last year, 125 high school juniors and seniors in Marin, Sonoma and Solano counties took part in this intensive residential program held at Dominican University and at Sonoma State University. During the five-day dormitory experience, students learn about financial aid, test prep, application procedures and take part in intensive writing clinics geared toward scholarship and application essays.
This year, 10,000
Degrees is working with 15 Sonoma Valley High juniors and 11 seniors, in addition to four SVHS graduates at Sonoma State and seven at Santa Rosa Junior College. Each year, 10,000 Degrees consults with classroom teachers and counselors to choose a new group of sophomores who almost immediately begin working towards their college goals.
Students meet weekly for two years with a volunteer college counselor, Mary Poppic-Reeves. She serves as their college advocate, reviewing academic progress and study strategies, developing a college list, preparing for standardized testing, writing essays, requesting recommendations and completing college and financial aid applications.
Poppic-Reeves is widely regarded as a volunteer extraordinaire who goes above and beyond with these students. She extends the praise to district Superintendent Louann Carlomagno and Principal Dino Battaglini, because she says that, without their support, the program could not have seen the success it has in Sonoma.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of 10,000 Degrees,” said Poppic-Reeves. “They are one of the few organizations comprehensively addressing the achievement gap for disadvantaged students. Their focus on mentoring inspires younger students to consider college a viable option and then motivates high school students to do the work necessary to prepare.”
She stresses that what sets 10,000 Degrees apart is that it not only provides advocacy support throughout high school and college, it offers significant college scholarships renewable for up to six years.
Added Poppic-Reeves, “I’ve had students who were struggling, earning Ds and Fs, finally begin to believe in themselves and their future. As their grades improved, so did their confidence, and students who once feared they might not even graduate from high school have ended up being accepted to four-year universities.”
Sonoma Valley High School grad Diana Baron is currently studying at SRJC. “Ten-thousand Degrees motivated and pushed me to pass all my classes,” she said. “I now feel like I can handle anything college hands me.”
Like most students in the program, Sonoma Valley High grad Dayane Mendoza was the first in her family to go to college. “My parents didn’t know anything about the application process,” she recounts. “Ten-thousand Degrees has inspired me to pay it forward; now I share my expertise with others.”
Senior Andrea Mendoza (no relation) is applying to Dominican University, University of the Pacific, Saint Mary’s and several CSUs. She has high praise for 10,000 Degrees and for Poppic-Reeves. “Mary is a very compassionate person who really cares about us,” Mendoza said. “There’s really no way to thank her for all that she has done, other than by showing her that all the time she spent on us was worth it.” Senior Tashi Sherpa is applying to UC Davis and Santa Barbara, Cal Poly and four other CSUs.
He is now encouraging his younger sister to set her sights on college. “She knows she wants to be a dentist or a doctor,” he said. “She is in fifth grade and is on the right track. Knowing what it takes to get to college, I can give her moral support along the way.”
Thanks to 10,000 Degrees and the epiphany Heredia-Rodriguez had when his teachers stepped in to support him when he was in trouble, life is now looking good. “After I realized it was OK to ask for help, I changed my attitude,” he said. “I changed my clothes and I changed my schedule, moving into honors and AP classes. Growing up, when my extended family gathered for functions, I was always the center of attention in bad a way. Today, I am the center of attention because all my relatives want to hear about my plans for college.”