WHITTIER, CA – For former California High School student Elba Solis and her family, graduating high school and going to college was not a dream, but a plan embraced by the entire family. The more pertinent question for the 2008 graduate was how to get there successfully.
“My parents always said to go to college, but they didn’t know how to guide me,” said Solis, who during her time at Cal High, enrolled in the Puente Project, a college preparatory and academic support program administered through the University of California.
Thanks to the academic preparation, guidance and support she received through the program, Solis was accepted to UCLA, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2011. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling.
“If it wasn’t for Puente, I wouldn’t have been the first in my family to go to college and I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Solis, who volunteers for Cal High’s Puente program and works as an admissions adviser at a vocational school.
Her story was one of many that UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks heard during a recent visit to Lori Davies’ 11th grade Puente classroom, where he encouraged the “Puentistas” to equip themselves with the tools to achieve and take advantage of the innumerable opportunities available through Puente.
“A college education remains by far the best engine of upward mobility that exists today,” Dirks said. “To expand opportunities for Californians of every ethnicity, background and socioeconomic status, we must encourage students at places like California High School to work hard, dream big and believe that a college education is indeed within their grasp.”
Cal High’s Puente program, in place since 1995, has been recognized as one of the highest-performing Puente sites in the state based on the numbers of students who applied to four-year colleges and the number who were accepted.
The mission of Puente is to increase the number of underrepresented community college and high school students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities, earn their degrees, and return to the community as leaders and mentors of future generations. It is sponsored by the University of California, Center for Education Partnerships and the Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges.
Cal High is one of three Whittier Union campuses to offer Puente. The others are Whittier and La Serna high schools.
“Because of this program, more of our students are engaged in their studies, are qualifying for entrance into the UC system and are getting into the finest universities in America,” Principal Bill Schloss said. “It was a great opportunity to have the Chancellor visit our school and Puente program and observe the world-class educational system we have in Whittier Union.”
Puente students work closely with a Puente counselor to prepare and adhere to an academic plan focused on college readiness. Students also take part in structured leadership activities that allow them to experience the value of life-long community service firsthand.
Since the onset of the program, student achievement data has blossomed and more students are pursuing post-secondary education. At Cal High, for example, the number of Puente students who graduated in 2013 and went on to a 2- or 4-year college was 94 percent compared to the rest of the student body at 58 percent.
The program, along with the support and encouragement of teachers and staff, has led to a flourishing student body that knows college is an attainable dream.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned about Puente is being empowered to go to college, making a family and building a connection and I’m very thankful for that,” said Solis, whose brother was also part of the Puente program at Cal High and attends UCLA. “I know Puente will continue help a lot of students in similar ways.”
Whittier Union High School Superintendent Sandra Thorstenson said the Puente program has helped contribute to the academic achievements of the District’s students while enhancing its college-going culture.
“I am grateful that all of our students are able to maximize their potential through programs like Puente and with the support of our gifted teachers, who are champions for their success,” Thorstenson said.
PUENTE: UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks offers words of encouragement and motivation to students in Lori Davies’ 11th-grade Puente class on Feb. 5, 2015. Cal High’s Puente program, in place since 1995, has been recognized as one of the highest-performing Puente sites in the state based on the numbers of students who applied to four-year colleges and the number who were accepted.