As soon as I entered the Garey High School gym, I could sense anticipation in the air.
The bleachers were packed with students eager for the ceremony to begin. Parents, teachers and administrators sat in the front row. Music played on the loudspeakers, the stage was covered in college pennants, and a giant inflatable Viking tunnel was awaiting the entrance of 62 college-bound seniors.
Finally, it was time. Although the crowd had only been waiting for minutes, this moment was four years in the making for the students who were about to enter the building.
One by one, Garey High School seniors dressed in their best attire paraded through the tunnel, around the gym and to their seats. Each had been part of the Bright Prospect program over the past several years and today was the culmination of their hard work.
Bright Prospect, based in Pomona, is an organization that aims to break the cycle of poverty by increasing college-going and graduation rates. The program empowers high-potential, low-income students to gain admission to and succeed in higher education.
Beginning with a week long Summer Academy prior to their sophomore year, students discover what is needed to succeed in high school, attend a university, and build a meaningful career. Participants form crews, comprised of five or six students who encourage and support each other toward positive goals during their high school years.
Together, they explore different careers and college majors, learn social skills for college success, select potential colleges and complete admission and financial aid applications.
“With the crews, we are injecting a level of conscience into friendship,” said Stephanie Campbell, Bright Prospect’s executive director.
The bonds formed between students within a crew is obvious. Over the next two hours in that Garey High School gym, each student stepped up to the microphone, shared their high school story, and proudly announced where he or she will be going to college in the fall.
Each student’s story was unique. Some announced their plans to stay local, save money and take their first college steps at Chaffey, Mt. Sac, or another community college. Many will be attending outstanding state universities including Cal Poly, Cal State San Bernardino, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, and UC Berkeley. Others humbly shared that they will be attending prestigious colleges around the country, including Georgetown, Pitzer, Swarthmore and Rutgers.
“My freshman year, I was ditching class and not doing what I needed to be doing. Then I joined BP, got to know about college, and learned that everyone can do it,” shared Alex, a student who will be attending UC San Diego next year.
In any community, hearing these stories would be inspiring. But when considering that Garey High School is among the bottom 10 percent of California high schools based on SAT performance and 89 percent of students are on the free and reduced meal program, these results are remarkable.
Student after student shared stories of struggle and hope, and gave thanks to their friends, family and Bright Prospect.
One student said, “I would be lost without you.” She will be heading to CSUSB next year. Another shared that she will be the first female in her family to graduate from high school, and the first to attend college. She thanked Bright Prospect for pushing her to do her best.
As tears welled up in her eyes, Selvin shared how her mother works 12-hour shifts and has inspired her to do her best. Selvin will be attending UC Davis in the fall.
And Marleni shared that her inspiration is her little sister who suffers from a rare brain condition that prevents her from walking or talking normally. Yet, she recounted that her sister smiles at her every day, despite her pain. In Marleni’s words, “She reminds me that I have no excuse not to succeed.”
Bright Prospect provides on-campus coaches who help make these stories possible. They share their expertise, they encourage students through the tough times, and they guide youth along the path toward college and a bright future.
To build a better Inland Empire, this is exactly where we need to begin. As a community, we are fortunate to have Bright Prospect changing the life paths for these high school students and building our pool of future Inland Empire leaders.
Gregory Bradbard is president and CEO of the Inland Empire United Way.