Lynwood public school alumni return to give advice about college

Elsie Carrillo, who graduated from Lynwood’s Firebaugh High in 2010 and attends Cal State Fullerton, answers high school students' questions about campus life.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

When Alma Renteria attended Lynwood High School, one of her best friends was a gifted soccer player and math student. “I thought he’d be an engineer,” she said.

But her friend was taking too few classes to fulfill requirements and barely graduated. Then he entered community college and quickly dropped out.

“He had a lot of potential, but he just didn’t know what to expect,” said Renteria, who graduated from Lynwood in 2008 and is now a member of the school district’s board.


To help students look toward continuing their educations, district officials including Renteria put on an annual alumni fair. At this year’s event, held Saturday, about 50 former pupils who attended colleges such as Cal State Fullerton, Williams College and UC Berkeley dispensed advice to roughly 700 college hopefuls.

As reported in a recent Times survey of high schools, college admission officers tend to skip schools in poorer areas with heavy minority populations. In Lynwood, where nearly 94% of students are Latino, there is plenty of demand for guidance.

“That’s why we have to do things like this ourselves, so our students can get the exposure they need,” Renteria said.

Many of the students who attended the event were seniors who had already submitted college applications. Students said that although Lynwood High has six college counselors, the application process was difficult to negotiate, especially if their own parents had not attended college.

Senior Orlando Hernandez said he could afford to apply to only two California State University campuses; each application costs $55.

Hernandez wants to study computer science and wasn’t sure which campuses would be the best fit. He checked out online message boards and websites before settling on Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Northridge.


“It was stressful,” he said.

Other students were curious about what life was like on campus. Elsie Carrillo, who graduated from Firebaugh High School in 2010 and attends Cal State Fullerton, found herself peppered with questions.

“What about the freshman 15?” someone asked.

“It’s up to you,” Carrillo replied. “You have to say, ‘Am I going to eat pizza and hot wings all week and fill myself up with Coke?’”

Carrillo told the students they would have to learn how to adjust to different cultures. “At first, when I saw all of these Caucasians and Asian Americans I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m not used to these groups,’” she said. “But you will learn from them, and they will learn from you.”

Carrillo also gave out academic tips — “always sit in the first two rows so you can hear,” she said — and urged students to take advantage of office hours and build relationships with professors. “They’re not scary,” she said.

Parents said the workshops gave them a better understanding of financial aid. “It’s so helpful to have it all put out in front of you,” said Leticia Santillan, who was carrying a stack of brochures.

Santillan’s daughter, a freshman at Lynwood, hopes to attend USC and become a dermatologist. Santillan said that although she had attended Los Angeles City College and could offer some advice to her child, her daughter wanted to get input from others.

“Children never want to hear it from their parents,” she said.