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TOWN HALL Why not college?'
Parents urged to prevail
No obstacle that can't be overcome, speakers testify
Tucson Citizen
NOVEMBER 21, 2003

'It's vital to instill in your children that 'you are going to college.' And don't limit it just to Pima or the University of Arizona.' - Serra Tsethlikai, 1986 Sunnyside High graduate who went to Notre Dame and then the University of Southern California College of Law

Expect success.

Determination to prevail over roadblocks is a key attitude for families who understand the importance of their children going to college.

That was the main message at last night's Tucson Citizen Town Hall, "Why Not College?" at Sunnyside High. About 300 people attended.

Sunnyside Unified School District co-sponsored the event.

Members of the audience added their own inspiring experiences as examples that obstacles, whether real of myth, could be overcome.

Come from a big single-parent minority family? Set your sights on Stanford or Notre Dame, said Serra Tsethlikai, who graduated from Notre Dame.

No money? "Don't even worry about it," said moderator Chico Rico of Mega 106.3. Various speakers noted the availability of loans, grants and scholarships.

Even Tucson Citizen Editor and Publisher Michael Chihak said he was the first in his extended family to go to college - but certainly not the last. He was followed by his younger brother and 20 cousins - all because the adults in his family didn't give the children a choice.

"The adults weren't saying, 'He should go to college' or 'He could go to college.' They said, 'He would go to college,' " Chihak said.

Tsethlikai, a 1986 graduate of Sunnyside High, a Native American who came from a single-family home with six kids, echoed that advice to parents: "It's vital to instill in your children that 'you are going to college,' she said.

"And don't limit it just to Pima or the University of Arizona," said Tsethlikai, now an attorney in the local U.S. Attorney's Office, who went to Notre Dame and then the University of Southern California College of Law.

Bigger colleges were out of the question financially for Elizabeth Federico, who has a son in Pima Community College and a daughter who will graduate from high school this year. "I hear there's money for college ... but where's the help?" she asked.

Sunnyside High graduate Armando Valenzuela, now at a teacher at the school, suggested school counselors as a good start: "Eat lunch with the counselors, get to know the counselors," he said. "The squeaky wheel gets the oil."

While speakers talked of a plethora of scholarships and grants available, Tsethlikai said, "Don't expect that it's going to be given to you. I'm still paying student loans," she said, "but education is an investment and it's worth it."

Tsethlikai isn't the only Sunnyside graduate students in the South Side school district can try to emulate.

The Sunnyside Foundation, which raises money for endowments and gives out minigrants and scholarships, has other prominent alumni in its ranks, including Tucson Police Chief Richard Miranda; Pima County Superior Court Judge Paul Tang; attorney Raquel Arellano, also in the U.S. Attorney's Office; Assistant Tucson Fire Chief Dan Larkin; attorney Rick Gonzales; and engineer Michael Barton.

But still, everyone knows "the most influential person is the parent," Rico said, "even if kids don't want to admit it."

Giehzi Jauregui, a 10-year-old who already has decided she is college-bound, walked up to the microphone just to say thanks to her parents "for staying beside me, and my teachers for encouraging me." It brought tears to the eyes of her mother, Veronica Jauregui.

Parent Clarissa Carranza said many people just give up on everything about their children's education if they can't help them with their homework. But there are so many other things they can do, she said.

Still, she admitted she hadn't really talked to her son about going to college when he was growing up. It was a $140 scholarship her son, Alexander Carranza, won at last year's town hall that got him to register at Pima Community College - and now he's there full time.

Adriana Molina knows the importance of being a good example - and the result. Her son, Samuel Olivarria, was one of the speakers last night. The Sunnyside junior wants to become a pediatrician one day, and said it was his mother's example that led him to value education and set high goals.

The family, knowing hardly a word of English and with no money to its name, came to Tucson many years ago after Samuel's father died. Molina, knowing she had to make a better life for her children, went back to school to learn English and then graduated from UA. She's now a teacher at Sunnyside

Kathy Dong, a Sunnyside graduate who last May graduated from Northern Arizona University and is a first-grade teacher at Sunnyside's Liberty Elementary, said her concern is, "When we leave here today are we going to go back to old ways?

"This has to matter now," she said. "We have to go back to PTOs (parent-teacher organizations) and ask, 'How are we going to make the changes?' "

Dong said she has seen too many of her peers when she was younger telling others, "College is not for everyone."

Said Chihak: "Insisting that your children go to college - that's the thing you need to take from here."


Create a supportive environment by encouraging children to:

Visit high school career centers

Take electives that fulfill college and university entry requirements

Take classes that provide vocational training, such as computer classes

Take classes at Pima Community College for future college credit

Volunteer in the community

Visit college campuses

Explore career opportunities and job shadow

Tackling the financial burden:

Browse scholarship packets and books in counselors' offices and career centers

Perform a free scholarship search on the Web at www.fastweb.com

Fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid on the Web at www.fafsa.ed.gov