Scholarships for a high school education

March 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Hispanic students born in the U.S. are more than three times more likely to drop out of high school than their native-born peers, this according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. In San Jose, an organization is trying to improve those odds.

Karen Ortiz attends a prestigious all-girls high school in San Jose. It's a different world, one she's grown accustomed to. Ortiz has always lived in the predominately Latino Poco Way neighborhood in the East Side.

"At first it was sort of a challenge because I didn't know anybody. I was just so new to the whole environment. It felt like I was the only public school kid there," said Karen Ortiz

Her decision to attend a private school was influenced by her parents.

"They didn't want me to go into their local public high school, being around violence, gangs etc. high school drop outs," said Ortiz.

But her family could not afford the tuition, $11,000 dollars a year.

That's when Enrique Flores and his organization, East Side Heroes, stepped in.

"We help them dream again. We say, what would you love to do if you could do anything in the world. They say I want to become a teacher, I want to become a lawyer, so I try to reach out into the community to provide those mentors and that support," said Flores.

Flores says while there are plenty of scholarships for Latinos to attend college, there are few non-profits helping them get into the private high schools.

Flores says during the high school years many Latino students don't have a clear direction.

"A lot of them are teen moms, or parenting parents. School is not the top priority unfortunately," said Flores.

Flores himself attended Bellarmine College Preparatory, thanks to a scholarship offered by the school.

It was that or join a gang.

"All my friends got incarcerated. I was the only one that was not incarcerated, never did. And those very lonely times when I was on the fence asking myself, what should I do? Should I follow the crowd that I was accustomed to or should I do a different route?" said Flores.

He stayed in school, and went on to college. Now Flores wants to do the same. For other Latino kids like Luis Guzman, life for him hasn't been easy. His neighborhood is plagued with gangs. No one in his family has finished high school.

"I'm going to be the first one to graduate from high school and also maybe the first one to go to college," said Guzman.

Guzman is a senior at Bellarmine. East Side Heroes pays the $13,000 tuition.

For these Latino students it's a 45 minute bus drive to their school, three to five hours of homework per night and a single-sex education. Enrique Flores admits, sometimes it's a hard sell. And they are often treated differently in their communities.

"They'll be like, 'Oh here comes the Bellarmine boy, the Bellarmine boy,' so they'll make fun of me, but at the same time they know that I am going to be somebody in the future," said Flores. "I know if we invest quality time in our young people, they can be the solution in our community as well."

Currently East Side Heroes has eight students on scholarships.

At Ortiz's high school, Notre Dame, the motto is "teach them what they need to know for life." East Side Heroes is helping them do just that.

East Side Heroes depends on donations and fundraisers to help these kids. If you want to help out, go to their website: