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Students Helping Students

Pacific students help Stockton youth rise above community challenges

Students walking down a hallwayPacific student Ty-Licia Hooker and her friend Michael Tubbs knew they had to do something to reach out to underserved youth in Stockton after a rash of teen violence hit the city. Both Hooker and Tubbs are Stockton area high school graduates.

Four teenagers were murdered in separate incidents during a one-week span in 2010. Yet it seemed no one was talking about it. It was as if violence among youth had become expected. And college for most of those young students was a distant, unattainable dream.

The longtime friends started a mentoring program for local high school students on Pacific's Stockton campus. Named the Summer Success Leadership Academy (SSLA), the program is designed to encourage underserved youth to help change the environment in their community and go on to college.

"SSLA was born out of the belief that, if given the right resources and opportunities, "at-risk" youth can actively be the change we all seek in our community ," said Tubbs, a Stanford University student.

The 2011 academy took place from July 17-22, enrolling 40 students from Stockton high schools who lived on-campus. It was the second year of the program. The academy featured panel discussions and presentations by Pacific students and staff on how to apply for financial aid and how to complete the college application process. It also exposed local high school students to college life. During the program, the students lived in residence halls, ate meals in the Don and Karen DeRosa University Center, and attended lectures and workshops led by college professors and students in classrooms on campus.

The serene campus is a stark contrast to the troubled neighborhoods that many of the students call home. To help address the violence and other pressing issues in the city, the students formed community action plans that will help them become "change agents" in their communities, Tubbs said.

In the program's workshops, the students discussed the music of late rapper Tupac Shakur, who often addressed violence in urban America. They also studied the Freedom Riders, a group of young civil rights activists who challenged segregation in the public transportation system in 1961.

"We were able to hear the mentors speak of people like Cesar Chavez, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." said Francisco Guiao, an SSLA student. "I realized we can be like them. They were just regular people wanting to see change within their community."

Stockton Unified School District has one of the lowest graduation rates and highest dropout percentages in California. In the face of such daunting figures, SSLA founders Tubbs and Hooker hope their program helps the students see a future beyond the low expectations that come with these figures. So far their efforts have been successful.

SSLA Participants and MentorsOut of the 21 students from the program's first year, three of the students were high school seniors. Of the three who graduated from high school, all went onto college. Two students went to San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton and one, Amanda Estep, now attends University of the Pacific.

"SSLA is about impactful programs for both our students and mentors" said Hooker. "The students see how young we are, witness the actions we are taking to target and eliminate the problems in our community, and they appreciate that.  It gives them hope that they, too, can make a difference".

Guiao said he plans to go to college and continue on to medical school to become a family doctor. SSLA student Denisha Jackson said after getting her bachelor's degree she plans to attend law school. She intends on being a family law attorney.

"It's a great program," Jackson said. "It opens your mind, and it changes your mind about the community, the government and the economy. And, in turn, it changes the way you think."

A number of students from Pacific worked with Hooker and Tubbs to bring the program to reality. Pacific students Maurissa Kiefer and Anthony Rodriguez, and Christopher Prado of California State University, East Bay, were among the 13 volunteers who served as mentors.

The mentors shared their own experiences of applying to universities and making the transition from high school to college, hoping it will ease the students' concerns about college not being affordable or within reach.

"I want to be a teacher who can inspire, support, and change" Rodriguez said. "With these students I am able to do that, I am able to change the community for the better. These kids are our future, and if we can't inspire them, support them, and change them, how are we going to change our nation?"

SSLA is preparing for the 2012 academy and is currently accepting applications for students and mentors. The application deadline is March 31, 2012. For more information, visit the SSLA website.