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CYPRESS : Candles Lit to Brighten Latino Path

A group of about 15 community activists and students this morning were to end a 24-hour candlelight vigil that they hope will persuade Cypress College to implement a program helping Latinos transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

Students have been asking for years for the Puente Project, a program at 27 colleges statewide geared to help Latino students prepare for four-year institutions with special counseling and writing courses. Cypress is the only community college in Orange County without it.

Hundreds of local leaders, professors and others were participating in the vigil, which began Tuesday morning.

“This is our last resort,” said student Cassandra Cortez, 25. “We’ve written letters, joined committees, held open forums, talked to trustees (of the North Orange County Community College District) and the chancellor and nothing has worked. Hopefully, this will show that we’re serious about getting Puente.”

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District trustees and administrators have said they will implement the program if the English Department approves it. Carol Schneebeck, the department’s coordinator, said an English instructor will spend six months learning about Puente and researching other programs throughout the state that could be started at Cypress College to benefit all students, not just Latinos. She said a decision on whether to implement Puente is expected to be made in the spring of 1995.

Larry Mercadante, vice president of student services, said, “The English department has been doing a study on the value of Puente. That’s where (the college) stands right now. But the vigil is making an impact. It’s creating an awareness of what students’ needs are and what they want on this campus.”

Of the college’s 15,000 students, 2,488, or 16.5%, are Latinos. They make up the largest minority student population on campus.

The Puente program involves a class of 25 to 35 students in which an English instructor teaches a writing course. A counselor attends the class to provide individual help, while volunteers from the Latino business community serve as mentors to the students. If implemented, Cypress would have one such class.

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“This is a great program,” said Therese Mosqueda-Ponce, a college counselor who is willing to sign up for the program. “It will encourage students to transfer to higher learning institutions and establish a sense of pride.”

As part of the program, students are required to return to volunteer as mentors once they complete their education.


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