A biweekly publication for faculty and staff
April 26, 2013

Students Share Personal Stories in Program to Keep Kids in School

August 29, 2012

UC Merced senior Patricia Paredes didn't grow up in the best neighborhood or have the easiest childhood.

But she overcame those hardships to graduate from a San Jose high school and enroll at the University of California's newest campus.

Now, Paredes, a sociology major, is sharing her story of perseverance with Merced County school children. She's one of several UC Merced students who are part of Merced County Project 10%, an ambitious program aimed at improving high school graduation rates by 10 percent over the next five years.

The project puts university students in middle school classrooms to stress the importance of graduating from high school. Officials are looking for ways to measure whether the presentations are helping change middle school students' attitudes toward school.

A dozen UC Merced students now are involved in the project and more are being recruited.

"UC Merced has the perfect students to identify with Merced County's middle school students," Paredes said.

Project 10% is collaboration between UC Merced students and community leaders, including District Attorney Larry Morse and county Superintendent of Schools Steve Gomes.

It began to take shape last year after Paredes and fellow student Noel "Justin" Gomez returned from the Latino Leadership Initiative Program at Harvard University Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership.

Morse was working with other community members to find ways to encourage children to stay in school because of the strong connection between dropouts and crime.

Morse said high school dropouts make less money, are more likely to need public assistance and also comprise about 70 percent of the nation's prison population. Research indicates that a 10 percent increase in California's graduation rates would yield a 20 percent drop in murder and assaults, according to the anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

Armed with those statistics, he had been searching for the best way to reach middle school students. Morse connected with UC Merced students after an on-campus speech originally built around public policy and the relationship between the community and university.

But he quickly focused more attention on the Project 10% idea because so many students were in attendance. Morse knew they could help.

"We needed to find the right messenger," Morse said.

Now, the messengers are UC Merced students who often have conquered obstacles on the road to college.