As an eighth-grader, Carolina Ramirez, 14, already has exceeded the level of education that her parents received in Jalisco, Mexico, and while her parents want her to be a good student, they can’t provide the academic support and direction she needs to attend college.

Enter Bulldogs to Raiders program.

This year, Medford School District has partnered with Southern Oregon University to provide McLoughlin “Bulldogs” with the resources necessary to become SOU “Raiders” upon completion of the five-year program.

Carolina, along with 30 other Latino students at McLoughlin Middle School, signed a contract with the school district and SOU, promising to maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average through high school, take challenging courses and attend two SOU-sponsored events each year. Each student's parents also signed the contract.

And in return, SOU and Medford School District promised to help the students get good grades and coach them through the process of applying for colleges and financial aid. Furthermore, SOU promised to admit students who successfully completed the program and give them a shot at the university's Diversity Scholarship.

“They’ll give me the support that I can’t get from my parents,” Carolina said Tuesday as she worked on science homework with other Bulldogs to Raiders students after school.

“I was already feeling like I needed some extra help,” she added.

Carolina definitely wants to go to college and is interested in becoming a dentist. Her parents, she said, also are eager to see her go to college.

Twice a week, she and other students in the program meet in the school’s media center for nearly two hours to work on homework. McLoughlin teachers and sometimes SOU and Rogue Community College students are on hand to provide assistance and answer students’ questions.

“These kids aren’t wasting time,” said Patricia Soltz, an English Language Learners success specialist at McLoughlin and an on-site coordinator of the Bulldogs to Raiders program. “They’re here because they want to be learning.”

Medford School District patterned its Bulldogs to Raiders program after the Phoenix-Talent School District’s Pirates to Raiders program, which launched in 2011-2012 and currently serves about 108 Latino students at Talent Middle School and Phoenix High School.

“I’ve watched it grow from the beginning, and now our first group of eighth-graders is seniors, and we’re excited to see how it turns out for them,” said Phoenix-Talent Superintendent Teresa Sayre. “Of the 27 students in that original cohort, seven have moved out of the district and 20 are on track for graduation.”

Sayre said she attended the first Pirates to Raiders parents' night five years ago at SOU, where Jonathan Chavez Baez, SOU’s coordinator for minority outreach programs, asked parents whether they were planning to send their child to college. Out of 35 parents who attended, only three raised their hand.

Later that evening, a panel of SOU Latino students talked about their college experience, and afterward, Chavez Baez repeated his question, and this time almost all the parents raised their hand, Sayre said.

The goal of the program is to create a vision for Latino students “that college can be a reality,” she said.

Last year in Medford, the graduation rate for Latinos was 50.8 percent, and only 61.8 percent of Latino freshmen — about 11 percentage points less than the state average — were on track to graduate from high school.

“Our goal is to create a college-going culture, break the barriers students have, increase the graduation rate and increase the college enrollment rate, which in Oregon is only 9 percent for Latinos,” said Chavez Baez.

Over the course of students' high school careers, SOU and district staff will teach them how to develop good study habits, time management skills and test strategies. And as juniors and seniors, students will get help preparing for ACT and SAT exams, learn how to build a resume, do a job interview, conduct college-level research and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“I think we finally have the curriculum in place to create that positive change we want in the valley,” said Chavez Baez.

At McLoughlin, Soltz invited students with a good work ethic and supportive, involved parents to participate in the program. And Medford School District invested about $14,000 for an ELL specialist, Soltz, to coordinate the program on the school’s end and another $5,000 to $10,000 for supplies and transportation home after tutoring sessions and to SOU’s on-campus events, such as Latino Family Day and the Cesar E. Chavez Leadership Conference.

“It’s not a tutoring program,” said McLoughlin Principal Linda White. “It’s a five-year commitment.”

After just a month and a half in the Bulldogs to Raiders program, Cristian Valle, 13, already has seen a difference.

“I used to have a C in social studies, and now I have an A,” Cristian said. “At home, I would be lazy and not do my homework, but here they make me do it.”

Cristian, who wants to be an athlete or teacher one day, said neither of his parents went to college.

“Since they didn’t finish their education, they wanted me to finish my education and go on to college and be successful,” he said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.