As I watched the initial cohort of 11- and 12-year-old Rochford Scholars immerse themselves in their latest project one recent Saturday, I couldn’t help but be reminded of myself as a child.
Growing up, education was valued in my household. My mother and father met in a plastic molding factory and worked 12-hour shifts. Mom has a fourth-grade education, and Dad earned his high school diploma. Throughout my childhood, they always told me that they wanted something different for me, something more. From the beginning, my parents raised me to go to college.
Both my parents were very present and involved—they went to every parent-teacher conference and open house. They made sure I completed my homework, even if they didn’t fully understand it themselves. And, if there was an issue at school, they would side with my teacher … because they knew we were all on the same team.
I am proud to hold an undergraduate degree from the University of Redlands (I was a double major in English and Spanish). After teaching high school English for six years, I completed a master’s degree and then returned home to Redlands, where I am a third-year Ed.D. student in U of R’s School of Education. I am currently working on my doctoral dissertation, which focuses on the underrepresentation of Latinos in higher education and how involving Latino families in the process of college prep and planning can make a difference.
When the position of program director for the new Rochford Leadership Initiative opened up, I thought it could be a perfect fit for me. My own research interests aligned well with the goals of the program, and I knew that being a part of this new effort would be extremely gratifying. Plus, the University is in an ideal position to offer such a resource—we have the connections and the steady stream of educators and volunteers ready to serve. Luckily, others also believed I could be effective in the role.
Alongside Dean Andrew Wall and others in the School of Education, we explored models of existing programs, and we quickly saw that we could have a greater impact by integrating college access components into our strategy in addition to afterschool programming. After months of planning and thinking through what we needed, after establishing our partnership with the Redlands Unified School District, I am excited that the program—which provides enhanced academic support with college and career readiness experiences, including weekly tutoring, Saturday Academy sessions, and a summer session—is now in full swing.
We selected the first cohort of the Rochford College Access Program this past fall—20 sixth-grade students who have been identified as having tremendous potential. As I have gotten to know their parents, I see the same desire—wanting something more for their children than they had—that my own parents possessed. They want their kids, who will be first in their families to attend college, to be successful, but sometimes don’t know the best ways to help them. Our program is intentionally designed to empower parents, to help them help their kids make good decisions, and to bring parents and their students together with teachers—working on the same team.
Even though we are in the program’s early stages, I am already receiving great feedback from parents. They feel valued as part of the Rochford Program community and want to serve as resources for each other. A mom recently shared with me how her son was having some struggles with his homework assignments and how one of our staff members intervened. We provide many levels of safety nets for these students throughout their middle and high school years, all the way through to a college degree.
All of this is made possible through the immense generosity of Tim and Carol Rochford. They attended our Saturday Academy at the Burrage Mansion last month, and I loved seeing them sitting alongside the children and families at lunch, talking and getting to know them. I am personally thankful for their investment in this community, and the fact that they give back to their hometown speaks to the very heart of their generosity. Their spirit of giving is absolutely inspiring.
I attribute a huge part of my own success to my parents. Thanks to them, I believe in education and so this program is deeply personal to me. I am grateful to the Rochfords and to the University for sharing this commitment and for the opportunity to contribute what I can to making a difference in these students’ lives.
For more information about the Rochford Leadership Initiative, visit www.redlands.edu/rochford.