SPARC students bring their children to this daycare center before class. Associate teacher Amy (left) plays with 19-month-old Julian (center).
Paul Wellman

Like roughly 18,000 other students, Sandra Estrada, 18, began class at Santa Barbara City College last week. But unlike many of the other students her age, Estrada is a mother-a circumstance that in past years probably would have prevented her from attending college. But thanks to a relatively new program at City College geared toward men and women just like her, she is now studying to become a nurse.

Estrada-the mother of a 2-year-old boy-and 28 other students completed in July a six-week program known as SPARC (Single Parent Students Arriving Ready for College). The program, which has now graduated two classes, is geared toward single parents who are at an economic disadvantage and wouldn’t normally be able to attend college, according to Jill Scala, chair of the Department of Professional Development Studies and teacher of the SPARC course this summer. Out of 30 who enrolled in the program this summer, 28 registered for SBCC’s fall term.

Throughout the six-week program, students work through 10 topics to help prepare them for life as a college student as well as for life in general. Interpersonal communication, personal accountability, dealing with different personalities, setting priorities and goals, and problem-solving are just some of the topics covered in the course. They’re topics many of the young men and women haven’t ever been taught. The course “gives them advantages to succeed,” Scala said. The group also goes on field trips-half of which their children come along for-to places like the beach, the Natural History Museum, the Eastside Library, and more.

The program pays for the Friday field trips, food coupons for a snack during the class-which runs weekdays from 8 a.m. until noon-as well as a stipend to make up for income the students may be forgoing to attend the class. “We thought, ‘How could we make this happen?'” said SPARC coordinator Elizabeth Shiffrar. “What sort of excuses are we going to hear that will keep people from signing up?” Childcare is paid for as well, a cost of about $1,500 per student. This year’s program received a grant from a donor through the City College Foundation. The funding for last year’s program was pieced together, according to Shiffrar, and administrators are still seeking ways to fund next year’s program.

SPARC is modeled on Running Start, a program for recent high school graduates who have shown they have academic potential but don’t view college as an option for themselves. Running Start is similar to SPARC in what it teaches, but it focuses on a different segment of the population. Running Start enjoyed such success that the coordinators began thinking about how it could be duplicated, and decided single parents who have kids could use some help.

So far, SPARC has been deemed a success by both its organizers and students. Estrada said although she probably would have aimed for college anyway, SPARC helped. Adriana Orozco, a 17-year-old with an eight-month-old girl, found out about the program through friends-and unlike Estrada, she said she probably wouldn’t have been able to attend college otherwise. SPARC advisers help the students apply for financial aid, schedule classes, and make it feasible for these students to attend classes, even with a child. “With or without a kid, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of your life just because you made a mistake,” said Orozco, who also plans on being a nurse. “We’re going to have things that help you take care of your child and prepare you for the rest of your life.” Which is exactly why City College offers the program. “As a teacher, you don’t feel like you always get to make an impact,” Scala said. “With this you get to see the transformation and benefit. I told them this is something you’re going to look back on and be proud.”


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