UCCS partners with local school, organizations to increase high school graduation rates

February 07, 2017

Audrey Jensen

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     Chancellor Pamela Shockley-Zalabak and Mayor John Suthers were pleased to introduce and be part of a new partnership between UCCS and other organizations for a new initiative in Colorado Springs.

     UCCS hosted the Colorado Springs Promise launch event in Berger Hall on Jan. 31 to kick off the partnership between Pikes Peak United Way, UCCS, Colorado Springs School Disctict 11 and Mitchell High School.

     The purpose of this partnership was introduced by Shockley-Zalabak with several statistics of high school graduation rates.

     In 2015, the Colorado high school graduation rate was 77 percent. At Mitchell High School, the high school graduation rate was 68 percent, while 63 percent of Mitchell High School students qualified for the reduced meal plan.

     The Colorado Springs Promise program is to help raise awareness of high school students who are struggling for a variety of reasons and to help them pursue their dreams and goals.

     Shockley-Zalabak shared that the Colorado Springs Promise Committee recently met with 20 Mitchell High School students.

     “The dreams were terrific, they were really big: Go to college, support the family, learn English, more currently, become a legal citizen,” she said.

     “But the barriers were bigger: Homelessness, student homelessness, transportation, computer access, working to provide for parents and siblings.”

     Suthers was one of the several speakers who stated that non-high school graduates make on average $8,000 less than high school graduates.

     “It’s imperative…that we work together to give students a better future through education; for the success of individual students and also for the success of our community, our business community and our city as a whole,” said Suthers.

     “First we want all of our local students to be successful. It’s in all of our interest.”

     The rest of the launch event included several more speakers who graduated from not only Mitchell High School, but UCCS, such as keynote speaker Pam Keller, who owns Keller Homes in Colorado Springs.

     One senior UCCS student who spoke, Raquel Valadez, credits the values instilled in her by her parents, who did not have the financial means or opportunities to attend college.

     Although inspired by her parents’ work ethic, she didn’t know the opportunities available to her until she came to a university.

     “It was this resource, this environment at UCCS, the professors, mentors…that helped shaped me and helped shape my future into a possibility that has already exceeded anything I thought I would have the potential for just a few years ago,” Valadez said.

     “If it wasn’t for these educators who saw something in me and my parents who were willing to give so much of themselves simply for my future, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today and I am eternally grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”

     Valadez is currently applying to grant-funded Ph.D. programs and will receive a stipend to continue her education for over 10 years to become a physician scientist.

     “Whether it’s conducting developmental neurobiology research right on this campus, becoming a published scientific author, visiting the national cancer institute in a few weeks, serving at a free local women’s clinic…I couldn’t have even dreamed of accomplishing these things without the guidance, support and opportunity I’ve been fortunate enough to receive,” she said.

     The event closed with a panel consisting of questions asked by Mitchell High School principle Carlos Perez to high school students and UCCS students.

     Each speaker contributed much of their success to their mentors in high school and college as they encouraged members of the audience to consider mentoring or donating to the cause.

     On March 15, Pikes Peak United Way partnered with gas franchise Kum & Go so that every gallon of gas sold on this day will go to Colorado Springs Promise. For every person who signs up for a rewards card at Kum & Go, Colorado Springs Promise will receive $5.

     “Colorado Springs Promise is to inspire and equip firstgeneration and low-income to middle-income students for a better future through education. We’re off to a good start, through giving, application and volunteering,” said Shockley-Zalabak.