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PARK CITY — Jose Vieyra knows he needs education to succeed in life. But as the first in his family to graduate high school and consider college, he wasn't sure how to apply, much less pay for it.
"I wouldn't even know where to start or what to do," said Vieyra.
He and about 50 other students at Park City High School take part in the Destination Graduation program. Volunteer community mentors help students like Vierya apply for college, explore career options and keep them on track in high school.
"My mentor, John Pollard, has really helped me. My teachers have pushed me and really have been there for everything," Vierya added. As a result, he's on track this fall to attend Utah State University or Oregon State University.
Success stories like this have made the program a candidate for helping Utah realize the goal of 90 percent high school graduation rates.
Last year, Destination Graduation leaders tracked 50 students in the program.
Of the 50, 100 percent graduated from high school (or were on track to), 100 percent went on to college and 100 percent received some kind of college scholarship.
This program helped me realize college was a reality.
–Rebecca Gonzalez, high school graduate
"We realized that after graduation, kids were really having a difficult time navigating the higher-educational institution," said Anna Martinez Williams, an ESL teacher at Park City High. "We need to provide them greater support after graduation."
So organizers not only recruited mentors, but community support for scholarship money.
"We're giving them not only the tools, but the money to go to school," said Tommy Tanzer, a volunteer and donor in the program.
Program leaders also found another element to help students graduate and continue their education. Mentor Lucio Oliva found that once they provide a vision for students, they have to bring along the parents.
"Sometimes there are many obstacles like family, maybe they don't want them to go to college, they don't have the means, they are afraid," she said.
Help on all these fronts helped Rebecca Gonzalez graduate from Park City High and go on to attend the University of Utah.
"This program helped me realize college was a reality," she said.
Now she's in her first semester focused on classes, exploring campus and learning about parking. She's also now working with Destination Graduation to help other students who were like her.
"I just let them know college is difficult, but once you have your first step in, it's really hard to go back," she said.