The green pastures and nickering horses of the Arabian horse farm bordering Cal Poly Pomona are all that separates the university from its sister elementary school, Kellogg Polytechnic.
But any sense of closeness ends with the shared name. Kids at Kellogg Poly can't even get a pizza delivered to their neighborhood because of its high crime rate, an environment that undercuts thoughts of pursuing higher education.
Enter the Orale Pues Project begun by Cal Poly official Art Covarrubias, a program that brought all 64 graduating sixth-graders from Kellogg Poly to campus last week for a tour geared to inspire them to see themselves as college-bound. Orale pues, a Spanish slang term, can be translated as "Let's do it now."
"These kids live so close, but they're in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood, and a lot of these kids will never go on to higher-education schools," said Covarrubias, a 23-year veteran of the Cal Poly admissions and financial aid offices.
Statistics show that 73% of the kids at Kellogg Poly qualify for the federal free-lunch program. About 96% are minorities.
The Orale Pues program began a year ago, after Covarrubias and other Cal Poly administrators noticed that at nearby Ganesha High--a five-minute drive from campus--only 11 of 300 graduating seniors from the class of 1992 entered Cal Poly.
So Covarrubias drummed up donations from Budweiser, Allstate and Foothill Beverage Co. and began sending Cal Poly students to Ganesha to distribute university catalogues and aid in the often frustrating process of filling out Cal State and University of California admissions applications.
"Now we have 32 total seniors going to colleges," Covarrubias said. "Twenty seniors are coming to Cal Poly, and 12 others are going to other schools, like UCLA, Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State."
Then Kellogg Poly Principal Dolores Villasenor got wind of the Ganesha program and called Covarrubias to see if Cal Poly could do something for her elementary school, which formed a partnership with Cal Poly four years ago when it added "Polytechnic" to its name.
"They had bridged the concept of a university and a high school, and we wondered if they could do something for our elementary school," Villasenor said. "We wanted to give the kids a sense of what a university was all about. We wanted to give them that goal."
To whet the sixth-graders' appetite for higher education, Covarrubias orchestrated the tour of Cal Poly, with stops at the Solar Flaire, the university's award-winning solar-powered car; the artificial rain forest, featuring Dinky the friendly boa constrictor, and the classroom of entomology professor Richard Kaae, where emperor scorpions, hissing cockroaches and walking sticks literally crawled over the wide-eyed grade-schoolers.
"That bug bugged me," said 11-year-old Anthony Ramirez with a smile after a frightened walking stick took flight, landed on the front of his blue pullover and caused the youth's mouth to freeze open in an O of surprise.
"But, yeah, I'm thinking about college now," he added as the Cal Poly tram taking them to their next stop rolled past some cows. "I like it here. I feel like Old MacDonald."
Iresha Grays, also 11, liked the visit because it related to events going on in her life: She's building a miniature solar car for her science project and she wants a pet snake.
"I really want to be a plant scientist, but I also like snakes. But my mom won't let me have the snake," she said.
Alberto Sotelo, one of about 10 parents who volunteered to help chaperon the field trip, said the tour made him feel like a kid again.
"I'm unemployed, but I'm taking computer classes at Pomona Vocational," the 39-year-old former machine operator said. "I had to get a note from (his son's) teacher to give to my teacher so I could come."
Sotelo was nearly as engrossed as his son, 12-year-old Mike, in the presentation about the Solar Flaire. As Kellogg teacher Jacqueline Ouellette-Moncayo searched for the answer to how the car would run on a cloudy day, he was in the background whispering, "Batteries! Batteries!"
"I never got to go to a four-year university; I got a job working in a factory polishing and welding right out of high school in Mexico," said Sotelo, now a naturalized U.S. citizen. "So I really hope we can put him through school."
Sotelo and the sixth-graders were inspired by the student volunteers who led them through Cal Poly; all of them had been Ganesha seniors who made it to Cal Poly through the Orale Pues program.
Jesus Garcia, a 19-year-old freshman, decided not to apply to any other universities other than Cal Poly because he saw Orale Pues as the opportunity of a lifetime.
"I got a full financial aid package, and the project is teaching us to be responsible and give back to the community," said Garcia, the first in his family to make it to college. His responsibility hangs clipped to his jeans--all of the Orale Pues volunteers wear pagers so their charges at Ganesha and Kellogg can reach them at any hour day or night.
"This is the program everybody wants to be in," Garcia said. "It's a great opportunity for minorities."