Education Initiative

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Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul Luna talks to Horizonte about a new education initiative that will impact high schools in Arizona.

José Cárdenas: Good evening. I'm José Cárdenas. We'll talk about improving college tuition rates. Plus, where you can go and find agencies and organizations offering free medical services and the launch of crossfade lab. All this coming up straight ahead on "Horizonte."

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José Cárdenas: The Helios Education Foundation unveiled a new foundation. They aim to boost college admission rates. Paul Luna, president and ceo of Helios Education Foundation and Dr. Chad Geston, superintendent for the Phoenix Union High School District, one of the districts partnering with Helios on this initiative. Paul, I said -- should it be the summit? It's going to pay for the act tests that these kids are going to be taking?

Paul Luna: We started engaging with partners, like Phoenix union, providing the act for every junior and what we launched today and what we're calling college knowing and going is an extension of that initial partnership. Every student in our partner districts -- we have 18 across the state -- will take the act test for free in partnership at the school they attend. In the senior year, they will work with the students to help insure and address the barriers for students to move from high school into a post-secondary education environment.

José Cárdenas: As Paul indicated, Dr. Geston, the provision of free ast or paying for the test fees has been going on for a number of years. What's the impact been?

Chad Geston: It was a game changer in Phoenix Union. For years, there were only a couple hundreds of juniors out of 5,000 juniors. And it instantly changed the dialogue in the Phoenix school district. There were conversations about what is it going to take to get kids into college.

José Cárdenas: It's not the fact that they don't have to pay for the cost, the district is promoting it?

Chad Geston: Not only are we promoting it, we built it into our school day so one of the barriers is we need you to come back on Saturday to take a college exam when you're a first generation student. Now it's happening in our classrooms, with our teachers as proctors.

José Cárdenas: Paul, you're trying to replicate this success.

Paul Luna: We're doing 14 school districts across the state. We've add four new districts. All of the school districts are majority low income and majority Latino school districts because we wanted to partner with the districts we felt we could have the greatest impact with these program services and increase the college rate and in particular, Latino students. We are focused on how do we eliminate the gap that exists with Latino students compared their peer white students.

José Cárdenas: We've talked on this show with Paul and with others about the need to get the parents involved, especially for first generation Latino students going to college.

Chad Geston: We try really hard from day one, really from freshman orientation, the conversation with parents is not just about what does it take to get your kids through high school. But what are colleges looking for? What are colleges looking for in terms of competitive with applications and scholarships? In the senior year, when we look at completion and we look at scholarship applications and even applying to college, we do scholarship evenings. We do scholarship and FAFSA evenings with our parents so they can better-understand the college application process.

José Cárdenas: One of the issues we've talked about in the past has been the fact that there is more hesitancy, at least in immigrant families, to promote or urge their daughters, as opposed to their sons to go to college. How do you deal with that?

Chad Geston: That is always a barrier. So, what we are doing is we are bringing parents of college students, who have already crossed that barrier to say, you know what, this is a great thing for your child. This is an opportunity for them to find the right employment level. We also bring students back from college to say, hey, I once attended this school and now I'm in college and it's been great for me. So bringing it to the parent level to share those stories.

José Cárdenas: Paul, several mentions of FAFSA, which is the financial aid form that people have to fill out. Part of this money is going to be used to help people do that?

Paul Luna: It gets back to the fundamentals of what a student needs to do in order to successfully transition from high school to a post-secondary education environment. College knowing and going is focused on those fundamentals, which is filling out the FAFSA and applying to colleges. Many students, especially those who are not as informed, may not know that they actually have to fill out an application in order to attend a college or university. We make sure every student is going to fill out at least one college application, complete their FAFSA and work to get them integrated into a post-secondary environment. The reason why this is so important is it is not just impacting the students and families, we believe from Helios perspective, Arizona can completely eliminate the Latino education gap. Given the demographics of our state, this will drive the economic future of state of Arizona. We view this as the economic imperative to have our students be successful in post-secondary education and that's why we think this is so important.

José Cárdenas: So, Paul, what else do we have to do? Helios has been leading this effort in so many ways but it's going to take a lot more. And what are you looking to do?

Paul Luna: I think it's built upon partnerships. We have great partnerships and leaderships. I think it -- it will take shape when we begin, as a state, to embrace -- and are committed that every student should be successful in post-secondary education. 68% of every job that's identified for the future will require that student to have some type of post-secondary completion. This initiative is committed to trying to make this happen at these districts and the key is to replicate it across the state, to make this a priority across the state of Arizona.

José Cárdenas: How do the other districts replicate this?

Chad Geston: It starts with replicating the process that Helios has brought in. Ensuring that every single student takes the ACT. It forces that conversation. I think the other thing that's become a huge success is having every kid apply to college. When you apply to college and get that acceptance letter, it changes a kid's view of their future. This happens in other districts, too, where the goal is to have 100% of students to apply to college. For years, it was 10%, 20% or 30%. Now the goal is 100%. What you see across our district is almost a competition to say we believe so much in our kids. We know that our kids are our future. We are going to put forth this effort to get every kid to apply.

José Cárdenas: One of the areas is evaluation and research. What about that?

Paul Luna: It's important to be able to understand what's really happening with the students. What are the barriers? We believe we have an understanding but it's important to do the research and understand. How are the students really moving forward? How successful are we? We want to measure whether or not this is having an impact in creating a pipeline of Phoenix union and people moving into post-secondary education. It is important that complete that degree or certificate program. We want to make sure we understand what that impact is.

José Cárdenas: We'll be looking over this closely. Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte." [MUSIC]

Paul Luna: Helios Education Foundation President and CEO

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