10,000 Degrees expands Napa services to support low-income students

The 10,000 Degrees organization is expanding its partnership with the Napa Valley Unified School District to support low-income students with higher education and career planning.

The 42-year-old organization expanded to Napa Valley in 2019 but has increased support through its recent partnership, now serving five Napa high schools.

Through the collaboration, 10,000 Degrees will further assist with early college awareness, financial aid, scholarships and on-site high school and community college support.

“The quality support we received, paired with added interest from within our school community, led us to explore and then expand with 10,000 Degrees into our other high schools,” Napa Valley Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Rosanna Mucetti said.

“This work directly aligns with our strategic plan and helps us work to ensure our graduates are career and college-ready,” Mucetti said. “What is also unique is many of the 10,000 Degrees mentors are recent graduates from our local community.”

Students receive support through 10,000 Degrees Fellows, who are college graduates and come from similar backgrounds. They encourage low-income and first-generation students to attend and graduate college.

“Because we know academic attainment across all indicators within the educational pipeline has historically been relative to race, ethnicity and socioeconomics, we have a large population of-low income students,” 10,000 Degrees President and CEO Kim Mazzuca said. “I believe in the Napa district about 50% of our students are socioeconomically disadvantaged.”

In addition to scholarships, the organization offers significant financial aid to help students avoid loan debt.

“Right now 90% of our beneficiaries take out zero loans; we currently have 4,000 students in college and are serving eight Bay Area counties,” Mazzuca said.

The organization has helped 174 Napa students to go to college this year alone, Mazzuca added.

Of the students in the program who attend four year colleges, 80% will graduate within six years with their degree. The organization’s community college graduation rate for students is three times the national average, Mazzuca said.

"Honestly, there is no other college program that can compete with us on that level.”

Martha Macias, a Napa Valley College student and former 10,000 Degrees member, said the organization helped her tremendously.

“I received a lot of support from them. Even when I was thinking of giving up with my school, they always told me to never give up. And that's what I did.” Macias said. “And I'm almost graduating this upcoming year.”

“I feel like without them I probably would have given up. But thankfully they were there for me a lot.”

Macias received support not only in choosing a career, but also in finding internships, financial aid and scholarships.

At Napa Valley College, Willy Lepori, the community college’s 10,000 Degrees Fellow helped Macias significantly.

“I honestly felt confused about what I wanted to do with my life and Willy helped me a lot. Not long ago I had a meeting with him and I was struggling with a course I was taking,” she said. “I felt like he was very patient and supportive when I would vent to him. So I really appreciated that.”

Macias, who is majoring in psychology and minoring in administrative justice, feels the organization is so important for students who are in need of financial support and assistance navigating the path to college and graduation.

"They welcomed me as if I was part of their family, and I feel part of their family. I believe they’d do the same for any student that is also struggling financially or with their career; they would definitely help them a lot.”

Fabiola Alvarez, 10,000 Degrees program manager, said she’s excited about the number of families the organization will be able to reach through the expansion.

“In the past we've had families from Vintage High School reach out to us, but we didn't have a fellow on campus,” Alvarez said. “So now the fact that we are going to have someone there is going to make the work a lot easier and we're going to be able to reach more families.”

The organization provides support for families who aren’t familiar with the U.S. school system, Alvarez said.

“Oftentimes those families don't speak English,” she said. “We're able to communicate with them in their native language so they can better understand the higher education system.”

Alvarez started at 10,000 Degrees as a college access fellow providing support to American Canyon High School and Valley Oak High School students.

“Part of why I enjoyed the work we do so much is because we're reaching communities that don't always have the necessary resources to get access to higher education,” she said.

“I myself am a first-generation college graduate. So I always think back to when I was in high school and I didn't really have the knowledge and resources to apply to financial aid or college applications.”

To receive scholarships through the organization, high school students must apply, however, there is no grade-point average requirement.

“We do require they maintain a 2.0 GPA while attending college,” Mazzuca said. “If they are applying for scholarships, students do need to complete a question around why they want to go to college. So we try to reduce all the barriers for accessibility.”

Students not applying for scholarships still have access to assistance with career planning and financial aid applications.

An objective of the organization is to help increase Federal Student Aid, or FASFA, completion rates in Napa. 10,000 Degrees has improved rates for American Canyon High School and Valley Oak High School by 40% and 60%.

“With the 4,000 students we're supporting this year, we'll put out about $7 million in scholarships,” Mazzuca said. “Last year we leveraged more than $32.5 million in free financial aid for our students.”

The organization’s fellows help students navigate the entire college success journey both on and off campus. Services include support with work study programs, completing school work, employment challenges, transportation issues and familial concerns.

10,000 Degrees also offers workshops on college planning for parents.

“The most important work is investing in our young people. So for me, it's always been a call to action. It’s where I can share my greatest passion for contributing to making the community and the world a better place,” Mazzuca said.

You can reach Intern Emma Molloy at emma.molloy@pressdemocrat.com.

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