By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Encouraging students to fulfill their dreams

“I always knew I wanted to help students get into college,” said Perez, McMinnville High School’s college and career facilitator, and lead speaker at today’s annual Cesar Chavez Conference for high school students. “I have a passion for helping them follow their dreams and reach their full potential.”

The youngest of five Sandoval sisters, Perez graduated from Dayton High School in 2007. She went to Linfield College, majoring in psychology and minoring in sociology.

College had always been a dream of hers.

“Our parents told us to put education first,” she said. “They never pulled us out of school to work. They encouraged us to go to school.”

Seeing the Linfield campus when her family drove into McMinnville inspired her.

At commencement time, she saw hundreds of black-robed students preparing to graduate. “That could be me,” she thought.

During her freshman and sophomore years at Linfield, Perez lived at home and commuted. She worked three jobs help cover the cost.

The last two years, the Matched College Savings Program helped her reduce her outside work, move onto campus and focus more on her learning.

The program is available to high school and college students at qualifying income levels. Offered through CASA of Oregon, it matches whatever money students are able to save on their own.

The program also helps teach students financial skills they will use for the rest of their lives, such as making and following a budget, learning how and when to take out loans, and establishing a workable savings plan. “That’s a huge, huge help,” she said.

At Mac High, Perez has assisted a number of students in entering the program, and she plans to tell other students about it at the conference. 

“I want to tell them it is possible to go to college,” she said. “There are people and programs that can help you meet your goals.”

Perez also plans to tell participating students — including about 50 from Mac High and many from other Yamhill County schools — about her job and how she landed it.

Her volunteer work during college included time at Mac High, where she helped with translating and interpreting, guiding high schoolers in filling out financial aid forms and helping with English Language Learner family nights.

After she graduated, the high school offered her a job in the front office. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, she said.

Then the college and career position opened, and she gladly took on the challenge.

Now, together with Esther Lipke, Perez spends her days helping teens find and make use of all the opportunities available to them. One of their missions is to sign Mac High students up for College Credit Now courses, which award both high school and Chemeketa Community College credit simultaneously.

Students pay $25 a year to take as many College Credit Now classes as they want. After graduating, they can transfer those credits when they enter the Oregon state university system.

“The savings are amazing,” she said.

The credits also are useful when entering other schools, such as Linfield, even if they won’t translate directly, Perez said. The credits she earned in college writing, algebra and business at Dayton High gave her extra opportunities at Linfield, she said. And, of course, she benefited from the skills she learned in those classes, too.

Another duty Perez has at Mac High involves organizing and planning college and career exploration activities. Mac High has held several such evenings this year, inviting representatives of colleges and trade schools to campus so students from throughout the county can learn about their programs.

In addition, she is planning a field trip for the entire junior class.

The juniors will bus to Portland on March 19 for a large career expo, where they will undergo mock interviews, visit businesses and take part in other activities. The trip will help them meet a state career exploration requirement.

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