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TRIO helps duo get to college

South Medford High School student Sabrina Pol's parents immigrated to the United States without a college degree.

Her father left school in the fourth grade and then joined the Cambodian army during the civil war before escaping to a refugee camp in Thailand. He later emigrated to the United States.

Her mother finished high school in China and couldn't go on to college.

So, when the couple married in the United States and had Pol, giving their child a good education was a top priority.

Pol always had good grades, but her parents had no experience in getting into college. Because of her family's income, she was flagged last year for the TRIO Educational Talent Search program, which assists low-income students in gaining admission and finding financial aid for college.

"A woman sent me a note to come up and see if I was interested in joining it," Pol recalled. "I thought it was interesting, so I filled out the forms."

Next year, Pol is going to Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., on $53,000 per year in scholarships.

"I knew about scholarships before the rest of the school did because of being in the TRIO program," Pol said. "If I had questions about any of the forms, they would help me."

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education and sponsored by Rogue Community College, TRIO provides assistance and enrichment services to about 600 students in grades 7 through 12 in Jackson County. TRIO employees work in South Medford, McLoughlin Middle School in Medford, Eagle Point High School, White Mountain Middle School in White City, Phoenix High School, Talent Middle School and Medford Opportunity High School.

"It is important because not everybody feels the confidence to take the steps toward postsecondary education, whether it's applying to a college or financial aid," said Cesar Flores, TRIO transition specialist at Phoenix and Eagle Point high schools and Talent Middle School. "It's just that additional support like that can be the reason why they take that step to go to college. We make ourselves available over the summer in case kids need anything. We also do follow-up phone calls to make sure they are doing what they need to do at their university."

Last year, 98 percent of TRIO participants who were seniors graduated from high school. Out of those, 87 percent applied for college financial aid and 85 percent applied for college, Koenig said. About 77 percent went on to enroll in college.

"Our rate of college attendance is almost twice that of Jackson County," said Allison Koenig, TRIO director.

Jackson County's overall rate of college attendance is 45 percent, Koenig said.

Students find out about the program through school counselors and teachers. Some kids also apply for the program after a friend or sibling benefited from it, Flores said.

At the middle-school level, students participate in workshops and activities to help prepare for high school and college. They learn about college, career options and study skills.

During high school, TRIO provides students with activities for career exploration and college majors, how to plan their high school experience to fit their goals, information and help in applying for college admission and financial aid, preparation for the SAT and ACT and pre-college testing, trips to tour colleges and help with college essays.

Trio helps students stay organized by giving them activity sheets to fill out whenever they do something that could be used on a college admission application or scholarship application.

Pol, for instance, kept track of orchestral and choral performances and all volunteer work such as working at the In-patient Rehabilitation Center at Rogue Valley Medical Center observing and assisting physical therapists.

Pol hopes to one day work in the medical field.

She plans to study human biology and East Asian studies at Stanford and to learn Mandarin, so that she can eventually study in China.

South Medford senior Ireli Hernandez, another TRIO participant, is going to Southern Oregon University on scholarships. Along with her older sister, Hernandez is the first generation in her family to go to college. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico, where they were unable to finish high school.

"It would have been a lot more difficult to apply for financial aid and college without Trio because my parents didn't know anything about it," Hernandez said. "We had a lot of questions."

TRIO also helped her find scholarships that were specific to SOU and reviewed her college applications before she sent them off.

Hernandez wants to be an obstetrician. She plans to begin her studies at SOU before going on to Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.

TRIO has more than 350 institutions throughout the United States, serving 300,000 students.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

South Medford High School students Ireli Hernandez, left, and Sabrina Pol have obtained scholarship money through TRIO, a federal progam designed to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. - Jim Craven