MEDFORD, Ore. -- It is officially Hispanic Heritage Month. Bulldogs to Raiders, an after-school program at Medford's McLoughlin Middle School, focuses on helping Latino students every month of the year.
The program aims to increase Latino high school graduation rates. In Oregon, about 70 percent of Latino students graduate high school. That's lower than the general population.
Bulldogs to Raiders strives to increase Latino high school and college graduation rates. There are also other Youth to Raiders Program at other schools in Medford and Phoenix. Click here for more information.
Bulldog to Raider's first cohort of students applying for college
"It's like a family you know," said North Medford High senior Anaih Ortiz. "All the tutors helped me a lot. Being a senior now, I don't regret being in the program."
Students become a family in the library of McLoughlin Middle School. Anaih is part of McLoughlin's first Bulldog to Raiders Program. She's a senior now and plans to study accounting in college.
"Math was always a strong subject," said Ortiz.
She didn't always dream of graduating college.
"I know that my parents didn't go to college, so why should I go to college, you know," said Ortiz.
Bulldogs to Raiders changed that.
"I started doing my homework and turning in my assignments," said Ortiz. "I passed all my classes. Actually, last year, I passed with A's every quarter. I was so excited. I was so proud of myself because I didn't know I could do that."
Latino students can join the program in eighth grade. Students who continue the program through high school will get automatic admission to Southern Oregon University. They'll also be prioritized for diversity scholarships.
Particial Soltz, the program's main coordinator, keeps in touch with her students even after they graduate eighth grade.
"They're not my biological children, but as a parent it just fills my heart," Soltz said. "It makes me feel so proud of them."
Younger students see this group of seniors as role models.
"The fact that they made it in time shows me that it's actually possible," said South Medford High freshman Gloria Rodriguez.
As seniors prepare for college applications, they know those family bond stretch far beyond this library.
"One last year and it's college time," said Ortiz.
About 180 students have gone through Bulldogs to Raiders.
Students honor Latino mentors
"My mom always told me to go far in school," said Jeffery Cruz, a North Medford High sophomore. "We didn't cross a whole desert for you to mess around in this country. We came here to give you a good life, a better life than what we had."
First. It's a word that describes Jeffery in a lot of ways. He's the first-born child in his Guatemalan family. He's also a varsity soccer player shooting for first place. Now, he plans to be the first in his family to attend college. He's been working toward that dream since he was little.
"Cause I know that what I do now is going to affect me later," said Cruz.
Many mentors share the same cultural background as their students and their students' parents.
"This program gives me the opportunity to be the person I wish I had when I came to this country," said mentor Eunice Pineda.
Students feel that support.
"For me, Bulldogs to Raiders is a family that helps and supports me," said South Medford High junior Angelica Flores. "It's something I can always count on. I know they will always be there for me if I need anything."
Bulldogs to Raiders encourages students to help future generations. SOU will give a full ride to students who finished the program and decide to pursue a Master's of Arts in Education at the University.
"It makes me hopeful that our youth will be okay," said mentor Patricia Soltz. "And hopefully they have learnred something and they will give back to the community."
Right now, Jeffery isn't quite sure what he'll pursue in college. But he is sure that he'll always have a community to lean on.
"If you're struggling with a problem, they're there to motivate and support you and say you got this," said Crus. "They're positive all around."
About 12 percent of students at SOU identify as Latino. The University said programs like Bulldogs to Raiders will help increase diversity on campus.
For more information about all Youth to Raiders Programs click here.