Teresa Ramirez moved to the United States from Mexico when she was 8 years old.
She recalls asking her father at the time, “Why are we doing this? Why are we leaving our country?”
His answer: “Because I want you to have an education.”
The family settled in east Oakland, and were, in Ramirez’s words, “very poor.”
But she, her four brothers and two sisters all got the educations their father envisioned: All seven, in fact, eventually would graduate from college.
Thanks to Pell Grants, Cal Grants and loans, Ramirez said, “I was able to go to college and graduate.”
Now the assistant director of the Solano County Education Program, Ramirez was among a handful of people who shared similar stories with some 400 high school students who gathered recently at UC Davis.
They were there to learn how Cal Grants can help make the dream of college a reality for students from low-income families — students who in many cases would be the first in their families to go to college.
Davis High School’s head counselor, Courtenay Tessler, was there with a busload of DHS students, as was a contingent from King High, as well as students from Woodland, Pioneer, Dixon and Winters high schools.
Diana Fuentes-Michel, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission — which administers Cal Grants — urged those present “to seek your passion.”
“My dad was a printer and my mom a cafeteria worker,” she told the students. “I had two sisters and we didn’t have any money for college. But I was a Cal Grant recipient (and) graduated from a four-year college.”
Since then, she said, “I’ve worked the last 32 years in higher education, increasing college participation, particularly among low-income students. I want to make college possible for all the kids like myself.”
A key part of that process has been outreach to students throughout the state, letting them know not just that the aid is available, but how to get it. In addition to the sort of gatherings that Travis Credit Union sponsored at UC Davis recently, the commission also holds workshops throughout the state where students and parents can get help filling out the required documents.
The key document — for pretty much any financial aid or scholarships nationwide — is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA. In order to be eligible for a Cal Grant, students must fill out and submit the FAFSA between Jan. 1 and March 2 of their senior year of high school.
Bob Lortz, who runs the commission’s “Cash for College” workshops, said he spends an enormous amount of time correcting FAFSA forms that were not filled out correctly.
“We strongly encourage you to attend a workshop,” he told students. “We’ll take you line by line through that application.”
Yolo County students can find nearby workshops by visiting www.calgrants.org at the beginning of 2013.
In addition to getting assistance with the forms, students and parents will also have all their questions answered during the workshops.
Cal Grants are awarded in three categories — A, B and C — based on family income, grade-point average and the type of college the student will attend. In the 2011-12 academic year, the program awarded $1.5 billion in financial aid to more than 350,000 California students.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy