Introduction to Higher Education | Spotlight

‘Overcomers,’ ‘Heroes,’ ‘Fruit Loops’ help pave path to college

Service project introduces children, prepares CSULA freshmen for higher education

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  • Photo of CSULA students presenting their UNIV 101 class project.
  • Photo of CSULA students presenting their UNIV 101 class project.
  • Photo of CSULA students presenting their UNIV 101 class project.

Picture of CSULA students encouraging the school children that they can overcome and succeed.

After identifying a personal challenge and writing it down on a hand-painted cardboard box, third graders in Kennedy Elementary School used the “bricks” to build a make-shift wall, and then knocked it down to symbolize that they can overcome any obstacles in their path.

Called the “Overcomers,” the demonstration was created to convey the message that the children can achieve success and even go to college. It was one of several motivational and interactive activities presented by Cal State L.A. freshmen as part of the community service component of the UNIV 101 course, entitled “Introduction to Higher Education.”

Valerie Talavera-Bustillos, who teaches UNIV 101 for the College of Natural and Social Sciences, said, “The Introduction to Higher Education course is designed to instruct new CSULA students to apply their knowledge and skills for academic and social success, and understand the myriad aspects of student life and the structure of CSULA.”

The class project, coordinated through the University’s Educational Participation in Communities (EPIC) Program, involved more than 120 CSULA freshmen and served more than 500 kids at Kennedy and Huntington Drive elementary schools.

As part of the National Education Association’s (NEA) Read Across America festivities, teams of CSULA students will “Go Green!” Fridays, March 2 and 9, in celebration of Dr. Seuss’s 108th birthday. They will present readings of the book, The Lorax, and organize other fun-filled activities for the young students at four local schools—Ann Street, Anton, Huntington Drive and Kennedy. Throughout the year, 25 Cal State L.A. students tutor more than 300 children at the four school sites through the University’s EPIC (Educational Participation in Communities) America Reads and Counts program.

“Teams of CSULA students worked together to brainstorm topics, themes and issues related to college preparation and literacy for elementary school students,” explained Rosie Zapata-Martinez, who teaches UNIV 101 for the College of Health and Human Services.

Through a “Heroes” presentation by CSULA students, the fourth graders at Kennedy learned that role models are everywhere and they can be anyone, such as parents, teachers, big brothers and sisters. Each CSULA student, standing in the middle of a jumbo-size TV screen made out of cardboard, introduced the “hero” that helped play a key role in keeping him or her on the path to college.

“Our main objective was to get the children thinking about their educational and personal goals,” said Cindy Gomez, who enjoyed creating the “Heroes” presentation and serving as a role model for these kids too. “The whole process of the project was fun. If I had the chance to do it again, I would definitely do it all over!”

Another presentation, entitled “The Fruit Loops,” promoted healthy food and tips for the first graders at Kennedy regarding keeping their bodies active. CSULA student Darren Ly and his fellow team members shared their interest in sports and eating a well-balanced diet, in order to emphasize how their lifestyles have helped them to be better students in preparation for college.

Furthermore, to inspire the children at Huntington, groups of CSULA students also put together a variety of stimulating, hands-on activities that were titled “Be Alert, Be Aware… Careers are Everywhere,” “Reading is Fun! Homework is Key to Success,” “The Next Steps to Your Future,” “The Path to Higher Education,” and “What Do You Want to Be? College is Key!”

Both Talavera-Bustillo and Zapata-Martinez collaborated with EPIC’s Victoria Mosqueda, who has an ongoing partnership with the two school sites, to facilitate this class project of four UNIV 101 classes.

“These presentations served as the course final project and students worked on the presentations the entire quarter,” said Mosqueda. “There were 20 presentations in total; all of which were 100 percent successful and received positive responses from the teachers and principals.”

Huntington Drive School principal Roberto Salazar was pleased with the overall outcome. In an email, he wrote: “Cal State L.A. students did a commendable job working with our school staff to create a community service-learning project in which the college students conduct grade-level appropriate presentations on the ‘path to college.’ Thanks to the connection with CSULA, we continue to reinforce our efforts to promote ‘college going’ aspirations for all our elementary students.”

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