Juan Carlos Muñoz speaks to students in a Luther Burbank High School class where he serves as a mentor as part of a Sacramento State program. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)
By Cynthia Hubert
Sacramento State senior Juan Carlos Muñoz stood in the hallway at Luther Burbank High School on a recent morning, chatting quietly with a student about higher education.
“He asked me if I was interested in going to college, and what my family background is as far as college,” said Burbank sophomore Emani Alexander. “He told me I could get help applying,” as well as with housing and financial aid. Alexander said Muñoz encouraged her to pursue her dreams.
It was exactly what Alexander wanted to hear. She intends to be a pediatrician, she said, and Muñoz made her goal seem more attainable.
The interaction occurred as part of a new Sac State program designed to benefit both University scholars and K-12 students. Partnerships to Advance the Value of Education, or PAVE, offers students in the region tutoring, mentoring and college preparatory help.
“I think it’s really helpful for our students to have someone who is currently attending college acting as a mentor,” said Burbank teacher Chio Saephanh, whose class on legal issues Muñoz has worked in this semester as part of PAVE.
“He’s older than they are, but he’s not a teacher or another professional, so it’s less intimidating,” said Saephanh, an attorney whose courses at Burbank cover the basics of the American justice system.
“They can relate to him as a role model. He can tell them, ‘If you want to be competitive in college, you should do this now.’ It’s been valuable.”
PAVE sent 27 tutors, mostly Sac State seniors from all areas of study, to four high schools within the Sacramento City Unified School District during its first semester, said Chao Vang of the University's Student Academic Success and Educational Equity Programs. SASEEP and the Division of Student Affairs worked with the school district’s College and Career Readiness Department on the program. Next semester the project will expand to Mira Loma High School in the San Juan district, where mentors will focus on English as a Second Language and English Literacy Development students, Vang said.
Vang sees PAVE as an example of President Robert S. Nelsen’s push for Sac State to be an increasingly active, influenial presence in the region.
“We are fostering a pipeline between Sac State and K-12 schools,” Vang said. “The ultimate goal is to improve educational opportunities for K-12 students through positive experiences with Sac State academic tutors and college role models.”
PAVE also offers Sac State students opportunities to explore potential careers in education, build their resumes, and bolster professional skills, Vang said. PAVE participants undergo training before beginning their tutoring duties and commit to spending six hours each week in K-12 classrooms for one semester.
Muñoz, who will graduate in the spring of 2020 with a degree in psychology, said his time at Burbank helped cement his desire to teach.
“It gives me a little more experience in the classroom,” he said. “I enjoy working for the betterment of students. I get the sense that most of them want to go to college and succeed, and I try to encourage them as much as possible.”
During a recent visit to Saephanh’s class, which is part of Burbank’s Law & Social Justice Academy, Muñoz participated in a discussion and mock trial focusing on jury selection. When the teacher asked her students to quietly read, he pulled several of them aside, one by one, to talk with them in the hallway about the possibilities of attending college.
“A lot of students don’t necessarily see college as a viable option, so I like to gauge where they are with that and answer their questions,” he said.
Burbank sophomore Joseph Austin told Muñoz that he is considering studying mechanical engineering after he graduates and asked him about when and how to apply for college.
Austin said he was more comfortable talking with his mentor than a teacher or counselor.
“It’s better, because he’s in college right now, so he knows what’s going on,” Austin said.
Soon, Muñoz said, he hopes to earn his teaching credential and have a classroom of his own. PAVE has helped provide a solid foundation for his future, he said, and a sense of satisfaction that comes from helping others.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I get a sense of fulfillment when I can do something that impacts someone’s life.”