NEWS RELEASE, 06/16/98

UC Berkeley alumi pitch in to save popular campus program for rural youngsters

By Jacqueline Frost, Public Affairs

BERKELEY -- Fabiola Tafolla came from a rural farming community in Central California where many young girls don't earn high school diplomas. University degrees are even rarer in Huron, the small town where she grew up.

But Tafolla followed a different path, thanks in part to Coalinga/Huron House, a contingent for the past 10 years of a University of California, Berkeley, summer program for academically talented youngsters. The "house" is a group of middle school and high school students from the state's Coalinga/Huron school district that come to the summer program. It also is the name the students gave the UC Berkeley sorority that, beginning in 1988, was their summer home.

Each summer, a different group of Central Valley students, ranging in number from seven to 54 participants, attends the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education's Academic Talent and Development Program (ATDP). Some 2,400 elementary and secondary students from across the nation participate in the summer ATDP.

The ATDP program begins today (Monday, June 15).

Tafolla, the daughter of Mexican farm workers, spent seven summers at UC Berkeley and is the first member of her family to have graduated from college. She earned a degree from Mt. Holyoke College and plans to attend law school. Recently, Tafolla introduced President Bill Clinton at a press conference in Washington, D.C., at the unveiling of his High Hopes for College Initiative.

Within the past two months, Tafolla and other alumni of the summer program, such as Rey Leon, a UC Berkeley graduate, have pitched in to save Coalinga/Huron House. It became endangered when Coalinga High School, which feeds the program its summer students, failed to assemble a group for the 1998 session. The alumni, joined by parents, students and members of the rural community, helped to raise money and other assistance to pay students' tuition and living expenses. Chancellor Robert Berdahl also pledged support after hearing of the students' plight.

"This program meant so much to me that we had to figure out a way to save it. It's crucial for rural communities to have this experience," said Tafolla. "Coming to Berkeley each summer made the possibility of college real to me."

Another factor that endangered Coalinga/Huron House was the absence of its founder and staunchest supporter - a middle school mathematics teacher from Coalinga who now has moved to another school district. Until now, no one had taken her place.

"These alumni picked it up, and they are going to fly with it," said Nina Gabelko, director of ATDP. "It's wonderful to see how they have taken ownership of the program. Coalinga/Huron House has meant so much to so many people."

When the program was launched a decade ago, the Coalinga/Huron school district had a dismal 40 percent dropout rate. Nearly 75 percent of Latino students in the rural district didn't finish high school.

Coalinga/Huron House participants have posted much different numbers. Among its 172 graduates, not one student has dropped out of high school. Most of the students have gone on to community and four-year colleges. Like Tafolla, many of them are from farm worker families and may be the first in those families to attend college.

Students in the summer program study hard and have had some grand adventures over the years. They have walked across the Golden Gate Bridge at 2 a.m., sipped high tea on San Francisco's Nob Hill, attended the opera and assisted Tibetan monks in restoring treasured books.

Many of the students' parents also spent time at UC Berkeley, chaperoning and cooking meals for the students. Unlike in previous years, when the group lived for the summer in a campus sorority, this year a dormitory instead is being dubbed "Coalinga/Huron House."

In past summers, the group has organized frequent "Famous People" dinners, hosting notables like author Gary Soto, writer Richard Rodriguez, the former president of Oberlin College and former UC Berkeley Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien. Gabelko said these experiences introduced students to the "world of the possible."

To make this summer's UC Berkeley program possible for seven new Coalinga/Huron students, Tafolla said program alumni and students held car washes, bake sales and yard sales.

"You name it, we did it," she said.

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