Herman Hernandez

Inspiration: Herman Hernandez spoke to Fitch Mountain School students last week about the importance of college. Photo Kira Ehrmann

Last Friday, Fitch Mountain Elementary School held a special assembly for its fifth grade students, where they welcomed the College Tee Project: a Santa Rosa based organization whose mission is to, “create a college-going culture for all students.”

Readied with boxes of T-shirts from various universities across the country, each with a personalized note written from a graduate of that university, the goal of the day was to plant the seed early that college is not only a lot of fun, but an achievable dream for each and every student.

A primary focus of the College Tee Project is to encourage children whose parents did not attend a university or complete high school to, “envision themselves as college students,” by sharing their own stories of being first generation college graduates.

Herman Hernandez, co-founder and vice president of the College Tee Project, kicked off the assembly by telling his own story; ramping up the audience with chants of, “College is Fun!” and “College is Knowledge!” that pierced through the gymnasium.

He then handed off the mic to former Fitch Mountain Principal Aracely Romo-Flores, a first-generation college graduate from a migrant family, who now serves as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Santa Rosa K-6 schools and is an alected trustee of the Healdsburg Unified School District. The children gasped in awe as Romo-Flores went through her slides, which showed her attending each of the Healdsburg public schools that they knew so well yet did not recognize in the photos.

Romo-Flores told the students that when she entered kindergarten she knew no English, and her teachers knew no Spanish, and although it was difficult, she quickly realized being a kindergarten teacher was what she wanted to be when she grew up. With rapt attention, the students listened to her journey, seeing themselves in her story and applauding with satisfaction as she told them she achieved her dreams, and that they could too.

Romo-Flores concluded by telling the students how proud she had made her parents, and asked who wanted to make their parents proud. All hands shot into the air, their excitement palpable.

The last speaker was Jason Carter, a Santa Rosa native and first generation college graduate who grew up in a dangerous and economically poor neighborhood with his single mother. He told them how he lacked positive examples as a child to show him what he could become if he worked hard, and so for many years he felt angry and lost about how he could succeed if no one around him ever had.

When he finally turned the page and decided to return to school at the SRJC, he was awarded with his dream job: running the Violence Prevention department for the city of Santa Rosa. Once again, the students cheered, heartened by the message that regardless of the obstacles they may face, they can overcome them to achieve their dreams as well.

The speakers wrapped up the assembly by reiterating to the students the importance of reading, working hard in school, learning from their mistakes and never giving up on their goals. The students lined up to receive their T-shirts, letters and posters, and then gathered excitedly to compare their oversized apparel and take group pictures.

The Healdsburg Education Foundation (HEF) was also present to enjoy the assembly and express their support for the College Tee Project. One of HEF’s main funding priorities each year is college and career readiness, ensuring that all students feel they have acquired the education, experiences and support needed to step into their futures with confidence.

HEF believes these dreams begin early on, and must be nourished regularly through encouragement, exposure to new ideas and possibilities, and the necessary resources. To donate to the Healdsburg Education Foundation, visit www.hefschools.com.

Fitch Mountain School students

Photo op: Fitch Mountain School students lined up for a photo with their newly acquired college shirts. Kira Ehrmann

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