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Mentorship program aims to boost graduation rates and cut crime

UC Merced student Ruben Reyes speaks to Cruickshank Middle School students in October about the importance of graduating from high school.
UC Merced student Ruben Reyes speaks to Cruickshank Middle School students in October about the importance of graduating from high school. Merced County Office of Education

A collaborative Merced County program is using mentoring in an effort to improve high school graduation rates and decrease crime.

Through Project 10%, UC Merced students visit county middle school classrooms to motivate students to graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

The UC Merced volunteers share their stories with eighth-grade students about their journeys to the university. The UC students send the message that the younger students can survive their situations and move forward, said Vernette Doty, associate director of UC Merced’s Office of Student Life and Civic Leadership.

“They have very similar backgrounds and challenges,” Doty said in a news release from the Merced County Office of Education.

The program, in its fifth year, began after college students attended a 2012 leadership program at Harvard University. Around the same time, Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II shared his vision with the students after reading an article that suggested improving high school graduation rates by 10 percent could result in 400 fewer homicides a year in California. That 10 percent figure is how the program got its name.

The District Attorney’s Office, UC Merced, MCOE and now Merced College work together to make the program happen.

“Over 10,000 eighth-graders have heard the message, and that’s pretty amazing,” Morse said. “It’s been an absolute success.”

Morse and Doty said the dynamic between the eighth-grade students and college students is similar to a sibling relationship.

“Their talks are so powerful,” Doty said about the UC Merced students. “I’m always amazed to hear their stories.”

So far, the team of college students has visited every middle school in the county since the program began.

Since the program started, state data shows Merced County’s graduation rates have gradually increased, from 84.4 percent in 2011 to 87.2 percent in 2015.

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