Students may enter Alta Vista High School as at-risk youth in danger of dropping out, but that doesn't mean they'll leave that way. Eight seniors at Alta Vista High School received a total of $25,000 in scholarships -- a huge jump over last year -- and will leave for college with a head start and a boost of confidence.
Every February, Alta Vista runs a workshop for students to develop scholarship application and personal statement drafts, according to Marciano Gutierrez, scholarship coordinator at Alta Vista High School. Gutierrez said students spend at least one to three hours every week to refine their applications, and probably end up working on it for at least 20 hours.
This year the workshop started with 30 seniors and dropped down to about 20 by the end of the application process. Of those 20 students, eight received scholarships for a total of $24,750.
One student, Jasmine Jara, received three scholarships for a total of $5,500. Gutierrez said Jara started at Alta Vista as a sophomore and didn't have a lot of self-control. He said she was able to grow and be successful at the continuation school, and that she now has plans to continue at a local community college. Gutierrez said after college, Jara wants to become a police officer.
The 50 percent drop in scholarship workshop students may come down to the rigorous application process, but the workshop has to be intense in order for Alta Vista students to compete. Gutierrez said his students are applying for the same scholarships as students in traditional schools, like Mountain View and Los Altos, rather than need-based scholarships.
"There is in fact 'need' for the students, but for the most part they're competing for the same scholarships," Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez said he can't say for sure why students were so successful this year, but he has a few ideas. He said a combination of good instruction and effort by the students helped, but it might be because this is the first class to graduate from Alta Vista High School that attended as early as sophomore year.
Previously, Alta Vista High School was exclusively for junior and senior students. In the 2011-12 school year, it started to offer instruction for sophomore students. Gutierrez said the extra year at Alta Vista might be a reason for the sudden spike in scholarship awards.
Gutierrez said this is the first year he's been the scholarship coordinator for Alta Vista. He said he's happy with the results, but was a bit nervous up until the scholarship awards.
"I was confident in the kid's growth, but I was telling students, 'If you work hard on this, it's going to pay off,' and I wasn't sure it actually would," Gutierrez said.
In addition to running the workshop, Gutierrez said he hunts down the scholarships relevant to the students. This can be a bit tricky. He said some scholarships require a high grade point average that many students coming into Alta Vista have already damaged.
Alta Vista High School is the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District's continuation school, an alternative for students who may be struggling with behavior or attendance issues. Despite those struggles, the school boasts a graduation rate of over 94 percent, and administrators encourage students to take part in a rigorous scholarship application process on campus.
Students at Alta Vista received community scholarships from organizations including the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club and the Mountain View Odd Fellows Lodge No. 244.