LA 'posse' earns Grinnell degrees

Four years ago, the Posse Foundation sent 10 Los Angeles students — Hispanic, black and Korean — to Grinnell College in Iowa on full scholarships. All were highly motivated but had lower test scores than the average Grinnell undergrad. Seven have earned their degrees; two more are a few credits short. One failed, left Grinnell and is now working and taking community college classes. As a “posse,” the students helped each other through the tough times.

GRINNELL, IOWA — The phone rang at 10:30 p.m. Lauro Franco picked up and heard panic in the voice of his friend.

“I’m leaving,” Sandra Herrera said. “I don’t belong here.”

Dressed only in pajamas despite the winter chill, Franco sprinted from his dorm room at Grinnell College to Herrera’s a floor below. She opened her door and burst into tears.

Herrera told Franco she was tired of the cold, exhausted by school and worried about her father, who was sick back home in Carson.

“We’re going to make it, Sandra,” Franco said as he hugged his friend and shared his own concerns about his mother in Pacoima.

And so the pair hit on a plan: They would spend Saturdays at the library and break the monotony with occasional trips to the mall, 50 miles west in Des Moines.

Herrera earned a degree in psychology and plans to be an elementary teacher; Franco, who graduated in religious studies, plans to be a high school history teacher or a professor in history or religious studies.

Friday, I’m going to a reception for the ’08 college graduates from the first graduating class of Downtown College Prep, the San Jose charter school I wrote about in Our School. The school recruits students primarily from Mexican immigrant families and preps them to “thrive” in college: 75 percent of graduates are on track to earn a four-year degree, though many will take more than four years to get there. It helps to have other DCP grads on campus for mutual support.

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  1. Cardinal Fang says:

    Grinnell’s four year graduation rate is 86%; the five year graduation rate is 89%. If the two students who are a few credits short actually graduate next year, then the posse will have equalled the schools five year graduation rate.

    Kudos to the Posse Foundation’s clever innovation of placing a group of students at a school together, so they can encourage one another.

  2. And kudos to you, Joanne, for the work you did with DCP.