By Sarah Mayhew
Arizona Daily Wildcat
When a Phoenix elementary school district superintendent recently spoke to a group of her students and their parents about the advantages of a college education, Carol Grosse-Peck said the audience was silent and she received cold glares from parents throughout her presentation.
When Grosse-Peck, superintendent of Alhambra Elementary School District, asked one parent why, the man told her that he could not afford to send his children to college and resented anyone who encouraged his children to dream.
This has been a common experience for her when she gives these presentations, Grosse-Peck said.
Many times children are discouraged early from looking forward to post-high school studies because their parents often look only at the cost of an education without knowing about the many forms of financial aid available, she said.
Once any hope of going to college is squelched, children lose interest in school and often get into trouble at school, at home and with the law, she said.
And Marynell Schlegel, principal of Walker Elementary School, 1750 W. Roller Coaster Road, said that by the fourth grade, it is obvious who will go on in school and who will not Ä much of it based on fourth-grade math scores, she said.
Problems become apparent by the first grade, Schlegel said.
A new scholarship program written by a University of Arizona student and signed into Arizona law by Gov. Fife Symington last week will attempt to keep children in school. The program promises students if they get good grades and stay out of trouble they could receive a tuition waiver to any college or university in the state.
Third-grade students who attend schools chosen to participate in the program will be eligible and about 250 students would receive waivers at the end of their senior year in high school if they can show financial need.
The 8- and 9-year-olds would be required to sign a contract in which they promise to keep a "B" average or better, refrain from using drugs or alcohol and stay out of trouble with the law. Minor infractions like traffic tickets will not count against the students.
T.J. Trujillo, president-elect of the ASUA, created the program, which he called Arizona Student Program Investing Resources in Education. The program is based on a favor his father did for his best friend in high school.
Richard, a friend of Trujillo, had a brother who was arrested on drug charges and a pregnant sister, and Richard seemed to be headed the same direction. So Trujillo's father offered to pay for Richard's college education if he stayed out of trouble and pulled up his grades.
It worked. Now Richard is a police officer in a small California town.
Still, Linda Schloss, associate principal for Flowing Wells High School, 3725 N. Flowing Wells Road, said she thought third grade may be too young for such a commitment.
"I'm not sure they'd be totally cognizant (to what they were commiting themselves)," Schloss said.
But Schlegel said, "That's the perfect age to start."
Schlegel said that although the third-graders may be unsure of the ramifications of the program, it wouldremind parents to help their children excel in school.
"Parents that probably need to be motivated the most are the ones who did not go to college," she said.
Still, Schloss agreed that a program to encourage students to think of college as an option should start early.
"Kids have to have lots of positives," she said. "Some would do it (join the program) for a candy bar."
In the past, students showing little intrest or success in school often were discouraged by teachers and advisers. With the recent interest nationwide in encouraging children to continue their educations, that has changed, Schloss said.
The program will fund the scholarships largely from private donations. The original bill called for the Legislature to appropriate $330,000, which would be matched by $660,000 in private donations, but to get the program into statute this year, the money was stripped from the proposal.
Now supporters will try to raise the matching donations contingent upon receiving the other third of the money from either the state or a new federal grant fund for this kind of scholarship program.
The student lobbyists will return to the Arizona Legislature next year to try again for state funding, said Patrick McWhortor, executive director of the student lobbying group, Arizona Students' Association.
Trujillo said ASPIRE targets "at-risk" students, who come from low-income families and are likely to do badly in school and get into trouble.
But Schloss said that all teen-agers are "at-risk" students. Drugs, gang violence, sexually transmitted diseases and other problems new to this generation of teen-agers have made decisions potentially life threatening, she said.
Ed Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Postsecondary Education Commission that will oversee the scholarship program, said that so far the commission and the students sponsoring the bill have not involved elementary school teachers. But with guidelines for the program to be set this summer, teachers probably be part of the planning committee.
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