May 012008
Authors: Shayna Grajo

COMMERCE CITY — Crowds of face-painted middle school students and bright-colored streamers packed the Kearney Middle School gym in the industrial town of Commerce City Thursday, where CSU volunteers hosted a dinner program to provide students and families with resources for college planning.

About 40 volunteers donning CSU T-shirts traveled by bus to talk with Denver-area students and their families about potentially attending CSU or another institution. The conversations covered everything from financial aid to life in the residence halls.

More than 300 students and family members of the Adams City School District 14 schools attended the event hosted by volunteers of staff, faculty and members of CSU’s Key Service Community, a living community for freshmen students who complete service projects in conjunction with their academic studies.

At the dinner, multilingual and lower income community members arrived to dine and visit interactive booths geared toward setting a track for college.

“This is an exciting initiative to give the families the opportunities to learn about CSU and how interested we are in the success of all children in the schools of Colorado,” said Fabiola Ehlers-Zavala, an assistant professor of English as a second language.

A native of Chile, Ehlers-Zavala volunteered to translate at the dinner, which was composed primarily of Hispanic and Latino attendants, she said.

The Key Service Community, a division of the Center of Advising and Student Achievement, has hosted the educational event at Kearney for the past three years. Key Service students dedicate 30 hours a semester to community service and strive to uphold values of civic engagement and leadership.

Earlier this year, Key Service and Reach Out: The Colorado State Advantage, another service program dedicated to increasing access to higher education for students of lower socio-economic families, facilitated college visits for Kearney sixth graders and educational workshops at seventh grade parent-teacher conferences.

“The idea is like a pipeline,” said Michelle Wellman, the assistant director of Reach Out and former Key Service coordinator. “We are pulling these cohorts of students through sixth grade and take them all the way up to college.”

CSU’s position as a land grant institution, Wellman said, established the responsibility of Reach Out to maintain a long-lasting partnership with Kearney Middle School and other area schools.

Reach Out and Key Service also serve Adams City High School in Commerce City and Hinkley High School in Aurora. Next year, the teams will include the local schools Irish Elementary, Lincoln Junior High School and Poudre High School.

“We educate any and everybody in the state. That’s our responsibility,” Wellman said.

Ashlina Beard-Vigil, 12, a sixth grader at Hanson K-8 School, said she wants to attend CSU to become a veterinarian. Her mother, Kayleen Beard-Vigil, said it was not too early for Ashlina to begin thinking about college preparation.

“At the sixth, seventh, eighth grade, you need to start worrying about your grades, your attendance, all the things that you need for college,” Kayleen Beard-Vigil said.

Neither of Ashlina’s parents completed college. Her father works three jobs to support the household while Kayleen Beard-Vigil works in social service for Front Range Community College in Westminster, where she attends evening courses.

Staff writer Shayna Grajo can be reached at

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