Rise Together Education, a newly formed nonprofit that aims to support low-income students through the college process, has begun to accept mentorship and scholarship applications from Palo Alto High School students.
Started by Special Education Instructional Supervisor Laura Marcus-Bricca, the nonprofit, which is associated with Paly, is reaching out to community members who wish to get involved and help make a difference in the lives of students who cannot afford college tuition.
Marcus-Bricca was inspired to create the scholarship and mentorship program after helping Stephanie Estrada, a Paly senior who graduated in 2015, through her financial aid struggle last year.
“I wanted to go to San Francisco State [University], but I did not receive my financial aid award until much later,” Estrada said. “Ms. Marcus-Bricca is the most amazing person I ever met. She has been at my side the entire time and I know she will be there for me whenever I need help.”
Through a GoFundMe campaign, Marcus-Bricca was able to raise $10,000 to help cover Estrada’s educational expenses. Empowered by the positive results, Marcus-Bricca then moved forward to create Rise Together Education, in order to support over 30 Paly graduates with an estimated $300,000 financial aid gap.
“[Estrada] felt like every message that she received since kindergarten was ‘go to college, go to college,’ but now that she had gotten in, it was not a viable option,” Marcus-Bricca said, referencing her family’s lack of exposure to the extremely bothersome U.S. college application process. “After learning about all of the students in similar situations, I realized that I can’t really GoFundMe for hundreds of thousands of dollars, so I decided to create a foundation.”
Marcus-Bricca envisions a multi-year mentorship program that would help guide low-income students through the sometimes unclear college application process, something that Estrada continues to struggle with in college.
“I’m first generation and I have no idea what I’m doing half the time,” Estrada said. “Even now, I still come to Ms. Marcus-Bricca with questions that I have. By spreading awareness for programs that help first generation, low-income students, we can help more students.”
In addition, Rise Together has two open board member positions for students who are passionate about contributing to the Paly community and representing the voice of the low-income student population.
“We are looking for students who are excited by fundraising and event planning, to be able to promote and create events here on campus,” Bricca said.
As Rise Together Education is still in its infancy, Bricca is unsure if the nonprofit will be able to provide scholarships for students this school year. However, it is already rolling out its mentorship program. Current juniors and seniors can apply to become mentors and seniors who qualify for reduced or free lunch can apply for scholarships.
“We have been meeting as a board to develop the program and we are now in the process of connecting juniors with mentors,” Bricca said. “We want every single junior who is low income to be guided through these processes, to help supplement and fill in the gaps from teacher advisors and the College and Career Center.”
Ultimately, Bricca hopes that the program’s multi-year scholarship and mentorship programs will help increase the graduation rates of socioeconomically disadvantaged students at Paly.