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Aid for students from lower-income homes feeding dreams

Rogers High School students Emelia Espinoza, 16, and Jared Weeks, 15, are participating in the College Bound Scholarship program. (Dan Pelle)
Rogers High School students Emelia Espinoza, 16, and Jared Weeks, 15, are participating in the College Bound Scholarship program. (Dan Pelle)

Emelia Espinoza’s father died when she was 4, forcing her mother to raise her, a brother and a sister on a housekeeper’s salary.

“It’s been one of my goals to go to college and help my mom,” Espinoza said.

A 10th-grader at Rogers High School, Espinoza is taking advantage of the generous College Bound Scholarship program that provides tuition, fees and books to children in lower-income homes in Washington.

The program is open to children in all state schools, public and private, as well as home-schooled students.

More than 2,500 students in Spokane Public Schools have signed up so far, including more than 72 percent of those who are eligible in the eighth, ninth and 10th grades. That compares with a sign-up rate of about 55 percent statewide. The program is in its third year.

“It’s so obviously the thing we need for our students in Spokane because we have so much poverty here,” said Terren Roloff, public information officer for Spokane schools.

The scholarship is based on the amount charged at state colleges and universities and covers tuition, fees and books not paid for by other financial aid.

To receive the scholarship, students must maintain a grade-point average of 2.0 or higher and graduate from high school. They also must stay out of criminal trouble.

The program, adopted by the Legislature in 2007, is open to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Sign-ups occur in the seventh and eighth grades.

“The hope is it will give the incentive to go to college and want to do well in school,” said Nancy Pemberton, guidance counselor at Rogers, where half of all students in the ninth and 10th grades have signed up for the program.

“I don’t want any kids to miss this opportunity,” she said.

The program is not just for students seeking four-year or advanced degrees. It can also be used for two-year technical or trade programs, Pemberton said.

But Espinoza has high goals. She said she wants to attend either Washington State or Gonzaga universities and study architecture or law. She has a 4.0 g.p.a.

“It’s a big commitment to me,” she said.

Jared Weeks, a ninth-grader at Rogers, said he wants to attend Gonzaga in computer engineering and has signed up for the scholarship program, too.

He said his father and mother keep telling him how important college is for having a successful career.

“They are really persistent in making sure I keep my goals high,” he said.

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