At the conclusion of his remarks to more than 230 Cook Middle School seventh graders and about 30 parents Friday, Carlos Ayala, Sonoma State University's Dean of the School of Education was pulled aside and asked to pose for a picture with a seventh grader.
"I said &‘I want to do this picture again in six years,'" said the photographer, Alexsandra Zupancic. That's when her grandson, James Valdez, should be a freshman in college.
Ayala hopes it happens, too.
"I hope that we turn on for you the dream of SSU. This is a place for you to come," he said to the group that spent Friday morning on the Rohnert Park campus as part of Cook's Compact for Success program.
"If people don't make efforts to come to a university, it's hard to imagine," Ayala said of the value of letting middle school students wander the campus. "We want to open our doors and show our vision. We are here to serve."
Compact for Success, now in its second year at Cook, highlights Sonoma State's commitment to holding a place for area students who graduate from high school with a 3.0 grade point average, succeed in entry level math and English placement tests and fulfill other requirements.
The program provides middle school students with tours of the campus, a guideline of courses necessary to succeed in high school and beyond, and support for parents who may not have experience with what it takes to gain admission to college.
On Friday, the Cook seventh graders were joined by some of their parents — a new push in the program, according to Cook Principal Patty Turner.
Only about four percent of Cook parents are college graduates and about 60 percent did not graduate from high school. That lack of experience about higher education is a major component of Compact for Success, Ayala said.
Zupancic said her grandson's education has to be a family effort.
"I think it's really important that (James's) family supports him and know what his goals are," she said. "If we have no clue as to what this has to offer, we can't have a conversation with him. This is our education as well."
The tour included a peek into campus dorms that devolved briefly into show of another side of college life. An impromptu dance performance broke out involving about eight Sonoma State students who were bumping and grinding in a way that at least one Cook official deemed "inappropriate."
The middle school students were ushered away after more college students joined the dancers on the second story balcony and continued to carry on while the younger students stood in the courtyard below.
Gustavo Flores, director of admissions and recruitment for SSU, said exposure to the campus and discussion of the academic roadmap students need to follow to find success in high school and college must start early. It must also include parents, he added.
"Ask your kids, &‘What classes do you enjoy?'" he said. "Begin talking to them about college, planning, make an appointment with a counselor, attend parent nights — anything the school has."
But in the end, Flores said, the hard work must be done by the students.
"We wrote the agreement; it's there," he said. "It's up to you to fulfill it."