Some parents start saving for college even before their children are born, but rare is the school that prepares students for college before they've nailed their ABCs.
Two area schools - Hollingworth Elementary in West Covina and Geddes Elementary in Baldwin Park - are doing just that. They are part of a growing movement of schools that are focused on the idea that every student has the right to be prepared to attend college. 
 
Going to college isn't a given for some students, said Hollingworth Principal Miriam Kim said. Students need to hear about college at a young age, she said.
"High school is too late," Kim said. 
 
The symbols of college life are everywhere at these two schools: there's a swatch of blue
Boise State football player Ryan Winterswyk, 21, talks to Hollingworth Elementary School students about the importance of attending college at the West Covina campus Jan. 15, 2009. Winterswyk is a La Habra High graduate. (SGVN/Staff photo by Leo Jarzomb)
"smurf turf" from Boise State, college flags on the classrooms and college logos in the multipurpose room. Students watch promotional videos and take virtual tours on university's Web sites.
 
Recently, Hollingworth hosted a current Boise State student and football player Ryan Winterswyk, who talked to students about everything from the classes he takes in college to how it felt playing in the Fiesta Bowl. 
 
Kim has also picked out students to make sure they're hearing about their future prospects - like fourth-grader Citalli Aparicio. 
 
"She looked at my scores, and she planned out my whole future," Citalli said.
Citalli now has plans to be valedictorian in high school, which should make her a shoe-in at top universities. Citalli, 9, is already beefing up her resume by staying late for student council, violin lessons and art club. 
 
At Geddes, Principal Virginia Castro said parents have been incredibly supportive of the push to get students thinking about college early. 
 
"We had one family - and this is a low-income, immigrant family - that took their daughter to UCLA and made a movie about their daughter," Castro said. "They videotaped her there at the university walking around. They took her to the library and said `This is where you're going to go when you go when you grow up."' 
 
Teachers and faculty at both schools have attended conferences and in-services with No Excuses University, a group started by Damen Lopez, who was an elementary school principal in San Diego. 
 
The group, as its name indicates, encourages schools to prepare for college at a young age - without any excuses. Lopez says there is no excuse for exempting students from that goal - not even those who don't speak English or come from low-income backgrounds. 
 
When Castro started at Geddes two years ago, the school had just finished up what teacher Ruhiyyih Yuille called a "dismal year." She said teachers felt like they were on a downward trajectory. But last year they started to turn the school around. Their Academic Performance Index score jumped from 674 to 714. 
 
What the teachers learned at No Excuses University was the "gas behind the engine." 
 
Yuille said she likes the emphasis on accountability - for both students and teachers.
"Even the kindergartners say, `Hi, Ms. Castro, I'm going to college!' and I'm like `Yes, you are!"' Castro said. "One day, it will make sense to them. And by then, hopefully, everything that we've given them will be embedded in their heads so that they understand what it means and it will actually come to fruition for them." 
 
emma.gallegos@sgvn.com
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