By Sue Pascoe
Almost all parents in Pacific Palisades expect their kids to attend college, and that expectation is shared at Palisades High School, where 91 percent of last year’s graduating seniors pursued higher education.
A little-known fact about PaliHi is that about one third of this year’s seniors are on free and reduced lunch plans, which means that the annual income for a family of four is less than $31,590.
Last year in June, the News published an editorial “College-Bound Seniors Need Our Help” in which I explained how I had volunteered in the PaliHi College Center, helping kids with their application essays.
“After a busy fall, December came and the applications were in. One day, I got a call from the College Center that one student I helped with an essay had received a four-year full-ride to M.I.T.
“I didn’t think much beyond that because when I took my own kids to college, we went to Bed Bath & Beyond and bought sheets, pillows and bedding for their dorm rooms. We picked up Kleenex, toiletries and school supplies. My kids went to East Coast colleges, so I made sure they had winter clothes, hats and mittens.
“The College Center told me that some of the families who have kids going off to college are struggling to raise enough money to cover the gap between the scholarships and the cost for books and other necessities.
“Most of these kids won’t start out with new sheets and a comforter in their dorm room—instead, they will pack something in their suitcase and go. (Of course, some of them don’t have a suitcase.)”
The College Center gave me a list of 11 kids with the greatest needs, who would be attending Long Beach State, M.I.T., Morehouse College, UC Riverside, Sonoma State, UC Merced, San Jose State, Columbia College Chicago, International Fashion Academy in Paris, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and UC Santa Cruz.
I asked residents to “treat” these kids to a gift card to Bed Bath and Beyond or Target or Amazon, by sending $100 (or any amount) to the school booster club. Residents stepped up and all 11 students received some help.
This year, Palisades Optimist Club member Don Scott has volunteered to overseeing the still-developing grant program, that was last year called Angels Aid. Now it’s the “Suitcase Fund” or the “Off to College Fund,” but whatever the name, the purpose is still the same: a Palisadian can directly help a low-income, college-bound senior.
“We are asking residents to help support our community asset [PaliHi and its students],” said Scott. “By giving a hand to more graduating students, we make Pali an even more attractive school to attend. One hundred percent of the donations we receive will go directly to the students either as direct grants or gift certificates.”
College Counselor Diane Hurst said, “Many of our top students are offered scholarships for merit or need but there is always a gap between the actual out-of-pocket cost and the scholarships or grants they receive.”
She pointed out that last year, one student was admitted to a leading technology institute on a “full ride,” but lacked money to buy an airplane ticket to and from school. (He’s doing well in his freshman year in Boston, by the way.)
“We have students from all over the world,” Hurst said. “For example, we have a few students who were seven when they came to the U.S. from South Korea. They learned how to speak English while attending second grade and grew up acting as the main translators for their families.” She said these kids are now at the top of their class at PaliHi and will most likely get full scholarships, but it’s the extras that could be a challenge. Some low-income graduates have to take a bus to their college because their families can’t afford to drive them, or pay for airline tickets.
“Sometimes the educational opportunities are just a little bit out of reach financially,” Hurst said. “That is where a gift from this fund can make a huge difference.”
Contributions can be made to the Palisades Optimist Foundation (tax ID # 95-4706527). Checks can be sent to P.O. Box 242, Pacific Palisades 90272, or left with Arnie Wishnick at the Chamber of Commerce, 15330 Antioch St., or contact the College Center, (310) 230-6643.
The News would enjoy printing the names of all those who donate. Let’s help give the deserving, low-income seniors at Palisades High a shot at the American Dream.