<strong>GRADS IN GOWNS:</strong> High school grads can ease into the academic demands of college life through Running Start. Pictured (from left) are Daisy Torres Lopez, Kevin Garcia, Alejandra Martinez, Rene Santana, Extended Opportunity Programs and Services Director Marsha Wright, Luis Cisneros, and Alisha Sanchez.  
Paul Wellman

If Eddie Carranco could go global, anyone could do anything. No longer a Latino from the Eastside or Westside of Santa Barbara, he became somebody at the post office getting a passport. He says he never felt more American. Perceptions of possibility shifted in the neighborhood.

People knew he was in Running Start, a program at SBCC where high school graduates without intent of higher education get incentives to try college. But study abroad? He bought a duffel bag, threw in some jeans and a couple of T-shirts, stuffed his life savings into his wallet, and got to Spain on scholarship. No credit card. Never been alone in a foreign country. Suddenly, he was converting currency and using the metro. Visiting ancient cities. Just a summer overseas: a game-changer. A chance to see himself as someone who can, who should, and who will.

With the new semester in swing, he worries Spain is a fleeting glimpse into life’s treasure chest, banging shut. But he knows he’s changed; there’s new confidence and growth. He’s asking more questions in class, interacting with more people, helping others. He’s not the same kid who graduated high school with prospects of minimum wage. Eddie went to college, to Europe, and the kid who’d never been anywhere didn’t come back. A guy with goals took his place.

Running Start, which began as a six-week summer program in 2000, motivates kids to seize opportunity, to greet challenges with a work ethic supported by new skills and strong connections. I learned of Carranco through my involvement with Foundation for Santa Barbara City College. I saw what I always suspected: Education is the ultimate tool of self-development, exposure to ideas, engagement of the senses, fulfillment of natural curiosity that turns the world into a classroom. Education ignites. Self-development blurs the rules about who may live a meaningful life, contribute an important thought, earn a decent living.

I’m happy to donate for scholarships, thinking I’ve done my part. But over the years, I’ve become a supporter of Running Start, unique to our City College.

Marsha Wright, head of Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), designed interviews 16 years ago to learn why the target population wasn’t giving college a try. Running Start became the no-excuse response ​— ​every objection was overcome with a tangible benefit. EOPS held assemblies at high schools for students identified as capable but chronically discouraged from further study. The program was talked up; why take a job when you could be paid to attend City College for the summer? Plus bus passes, meal vouchers, tutorial assistance, peer counseling, and, on Fridays, fun field trips. If you were a teenager facing a lifetime of boredom, cashiering somewhere or flipping burgers for low pay, what was there to lose? An hour for an appointment. But for some of those kids, nobody in their family had ever walked on a college campus.

After the first successful year, the Foundation for SBCC started paying for the 65 kids ​— ​of the 400 who were interested ​— ​who arrived to sign the contract agreeing to attend class, be on time, and get passing grades. Their amazing summer made news in unprivileged communities of S.B.: They bonded tightly, discovered a network of support, and acquired skills to find and use resources, financial and scholarly. Kids discovered themselves. A decade on, the opportunity was legend. It was the time of their lives. In September, more than 90 percent enrolled in City College; but only 10 percent of that inaugural class graduated. Environmental pressures won out.

The happy 10 percent became distinguished professionals, a district judge, countless business people, professors, and so forth, who credit their survival and ultimate success to Running Start. But the troubling attrition rate was enormous. Life intervened. Financial underpinning was key. There was urgency from family to get employment and help out. Pregnancies. Hard times. The usual.

A tireless advocate on behalf of impoverished City College students saw a fix. Kandy Luria-Budgor, a boardmember of the SBCC Foundation, knew Running Start should be a yearlong program to fully launch students now invested in their academic growth. She explained, “Some young people feel they’ve missed the bus in life, and others know all too well the bus doesn’t even stop in their neighborhood.”

In 2012, Luria-Budgor marshaled private donors to underwrite a five-year experiment in making Running Start a one-year program, calling them “Angels.” The Angels each committed $10,000 for five years, assembling at Giannfranco’s restaurant in Carpinteria ​— ​the owner is a graduate of SBCC’s Culinary Arts Program ​— ​to hear the hopes and goals of the extended program, dubbed Running Start 2. Emotional testimony came from students. Beautiful food was consumed. Luria-Budgor had the clout and the will to make it happen, and happen it did. I became an Angel. Giving 65 kids a full scholarship for only 10 grand seemed a good buy.

Now in year four, success is obvious. Since expansion, 179 degrees and certificates have been conferred on participants, with 62 transfers to four-year universities. There’s thrilling evidence of the ordinary ​— ​the ordinary miracle of each student’s mandate to command his own life. Regular kids lured by the money got a glimpse of their highest and best selves and won’t let go. A full year makes it stick.

Daily, they confront and triumph over the wearisome challenges of staying their course despite incredible adversity, overcoming home situations where education isn’t valued. Sometimes, the word “home” carries a subtext of comfort students cannot count on. There’s an entire universe of hardship and defeat these brave students must shed to gain a new self-image. Education and confidence in their abilities help them do just that.

I’ve followed eight students who transferred to universities this year, wondering how their transition would progress without the devoted structural support of the EOPS office. Marsha Wright claims their new skills are applicable anywhere. But the kids do “call home” now and again to check in. The extreme sense of belonging, of having a physical place to go, was now past history. Anything could happen. They had both fears and determination; locating help was a skill mastered at SBCC. All were confident but untested. Most found the dorm too expensive and were encountering the vagaries of roommates and life away from home.

One girl described, tearfully, her father’s indifference to her UCLA acceptance. How could he comprehend it, a laborer all his life? Its significance, its magnitude, was all the more a solitary consideration, being motherless. But her companions in Running Start understood her achievement.

A young man now at UCSB had a sister in Running Start before him. He appreciated the quick understanding of procedures and protocol handed down to him, how to optimize the school’s resources. His mother was extremely supportive, having dropped out in youth. A young woman off to San Francisco State had support from her family and stepfamily, an unusual degree of cooperation. But parental support is often rare. There’s discomfort mingled with pride. Jealous siblings eye the demand placed on family finances by the scholar. Simple impediments block success, such as not having a quiet place to study or suspicion about late hours at the library.

Another girl on full scholarship to USC credited Running Start for her confidence. Motivated by the stipend, she acquired precious insight that she had aptitude, intellect, and ability. When she chose to run for Student Advocate, she abandoned her comfort zone. Nobody at home understood her investment of time into her studies; her support system had to originate outside the family. But they get it now: Educated people earn more money.

And what of the Angels? Proud, too. But is it their place to subsidize success, or isn’t that what a progressive society does? Perhaps it shouldn’t be a matter of charity but a wise investment for all of us.

Even with SBCC’s Promise now covering tuition, Running Start will continue to offer the six-week summer program, tutoring, counseling, and mentoring, plus student stipends, meal vouchers, educational field trips, monthly workshops, and the two college visits. See sbcc.edu/eops for more info.


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