Jesse Enriquez, the new coordinator of an East County initiative to make the high school-to-college or career transition more seamless, understands the challenges facing teens as they venture into adulthood.
Coming from modest means and the product of a public school system with a large Hispanic population, starting college was an experience as foreign as anything Enriquez had ever encountered. But the school of hard knocks and an inner drive propelled him forward, and the first-generation college graduate says those memories will serve him well as the coordinator of the East County Education Alliance.
With a master’s degree in Postsecondary Educational Leadership from San Diego State University, Enriquez is well-versed in ins and outs of higher education. He said the work being done by the East County Education Alliance is innovative and is setting the foundation for the initiative to eventually expand to include primary schools.
The joint venture between the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District and the Grossmont Union High School District is designed to encourage collaboration between the two institutions so high school students are better informed about their college and career options. A major component of the program is an initiative to provide a free year of classes at Grossmont or Cuyamaca colleges to qualifying high school graduates, starting with the class of 2019.
No stranger to educational deficits
Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Enriquez was 5 when he immigrated to the United States with his parents, farm workers who labored for nearly two decades in agricultural fields in Oxnard. His Texas-born mother was raised in Mexico and wasn’t even aware of her American citizenship until uncovering her birth certificate shortly before getting married.
His parents, neither of whom went beyond elementary school, instilled in their son an understanding of the value of education. But they had little to offer in the way of financial resources or a roadmap to attain academic success.
“College wasn’t something my family knew anything about,” Enriquez said.
With few Advanced Placement, or AP, classes and counselors challenged with getting students to graduate from high school, much less college, Enriquez said his secondary educational experience left him ill-prepared for college. That, he said, is the core issue that the Alliance is addressing by getting educators from both the colleges and high schools to develop curricula that will make advancing from one educational level to the next a smoother process.
“What really attracted me to the Alliance is that more than just a free year of college, it is about educators and administrators working together to provide an easier pathway to either college or a career,” said Enriquez, who prior to his current job, was the school programs coordinator for South Bay Community Services, one of the largest multi-social service agencies in the county.
As a school programs coordinator, he partnered with the Sweetwater Union High School District to implement federally-funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers at low-performing schools. These centers provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty schools.
Enriquez, who only started with the Alliance a few weeks ago, is busy learning the inner workings of the college and high school districts. He is looking forward to soon joining the college outreach teams as they visit high school campuses to spread the word about the Alliance and the Higher Edge scholarship that will cover the costs of that first year in college.
“I had a high school teacher who saw something in me and encouraged me to pursue a college education and that made all the difference,” said Enriquez, who received his bachelor’s in kinesiology from California State University, Chico. “The biggest success of this program will be to better prepare students to matriculate into the community college system and to transfer on to a university or to receive the training needed to enter workforce. It’s a new calling that I very much look forward to.”
For more information about the Higher Edge scholarship and to get involved in the work of the East County Education Alliance, go to www.eastcountyeducationalliance.org