A third-year class was stunned by a free ride to college

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Erika Valadez is finishing her freshman year at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, a prospect she says would not have been possible without the generosity of a local family.

In 2012, the Rosztoczy Foundation—a private family organization based in Avondale, Arizona—promised Valadez and 83 other third-graders a full college scholarship.

Although Valadez, 19, could have applied for student loans, grants and scholarships that would have made higher education more accessible, “I think I would have taken a few years off to try to make some money,” she said. Now, “I won’t graduate with over $100,000 in debt.”

In third grade, Valadez couldn’t understand the gravity of the gift, but when she reached high school and was able to focus on her classes without worrying about money for college, she realized that ” it’s a very big opportunity.”

“It impacts not just you, but everyone around you,” she said, adding that her family was not in a financial enough position to fund her college education.

Ten years after the Rosztoczy Foundation awarded its first grant, another group of 63 third-graders in Phoenix were surprised by the same promise: a full ride to college, including tuition, accommodation and meals.

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The entire third-grade class at Bernard Black Elementary School gathered with their parents for what they thought was a standard assembly on a recent Monday night.

Quintin Boyce, the superintendent of the Roosevelt School District, announced that all third-grade students at the school would have their college expenses covered. At first, the parents were in disbelief, but once the initial shock wore off, almost every parent burst into tears of joy.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Boyce said of the April 25 assembly. “It was a truly precious moment. In my 20 years as a student, it was one of the most, if not the most memorable, experiences I have had.

The surprise announcement had a profound impact on parents, many of whom said they could not imagine saving enough money to send their children to college. About 90% of the school district is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, the superintendent said.

The average cost of a college education in the United States is $35,331 per year, according to the Education Data Initiative, although the cost varies depending on whether the school is in-state or out-of-state. state, private or public.

The cost of higher education has increased exponentially over the years, with an annual growth rate of almost 7%.

Citing this and other reasons, parents at Bernard Black Primary School were grateful for the unexpected gift.

“I got very emotional,” said Evelia Castaneda, whose son, Abisai, is in third grade. She and her husband were overwhelmed with relief and excitement.

“It will be a big difference,” said Asael Castaneda.

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Knowing he has a full commute to college, Abisai already has a goal in mind: “I want to be a doctor,” he said.

The Rosztoczy Foundation was founded in 2005 by the late Ferenc E. Rosztoczy, a Hungarian-born chemist who established several successful businesses after moving to the United States in 1957. Its goal was to provide scholarship opportunities for Hungarian students to study in America.

In 2012, he launched the College Promise program, which aims to send groups of local students who live in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas to college.

That year, the foundation offered to send 84 third-grade students from the Michael Anderson School in Avondale to college. Among them, 67 students graduated from the local school district last year and, to date, 34 are enrolled in college. Students have five years to use their eligibility.

“When we felt like we had succeeded as they graduated last year, we decided we wanted to do more,” said Ferenc Rosztoczy’s son, Tom Rosztoczy, who now heads the foundation. with his mother and brother. “We spent time trying to see if it made a difference, and we felt like it did.”

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He said their goal was to eventually award the scholarships to two elementary schools a year, adding that the offer would be extended to another group of third-graders next month.

The decision to award the scholarships to third-year students is based on the research they have done.

“We wanted to start young enough for kids and parents to change the way they think about education,” Rosztoczy said.

To retain the full scholarship, students must graduate from the local public school district, maintain a college grade point average of 2.0 or higher, and complete at least 12 credits per semester.

Rosztoczy added that one of the family’s goals is also to strengthen local public school districts by ensuring that motivated students stay in school.

The scholarship covers approximately $120,000 per student, which is roughly the cost of what it would cost to attend a public school for four years. If a child chooses to participate in a more expensive program, they will pay the difference.

Students are eligible for the scholarship if they enroll in the school before eighth grade as long as they meet or beat the national average on a standardized test. At Michael Anderson School, 45 students who joined the class after third grade were eligible.

In the Roosevelt Elementary School District, nearly 86 percent of students are recorded as economically disadvantaged. While there is no data detailing how many of these students are attending college, 38% of seniors in the local school district’s class of 2021 — where many Roosevelt elementary students are continuing their education — went to college, according to a district representative.

Three months ago, when the family first approached Boyce with the idea of ​​a scholarship, “I was dumbfounded,” he said. “It is truly a life-changing offer for our children. Access to university is one of the ways to break the cycle of poverty.

The family let him decide which school was best suited for funding.

“It was an impossible decision,” Boyce said, explaining that he based the selection on financial need and student population. In the end, Bernard Black Primary School did the trick.

“To have the guarantee that he’s already there waiting makes it so much easier to really push and focus on being an amazing student. It’s freeing,” said Boyce, whose single mother worked several jobs to send him to college.

For Valadez, who was his valedictorian in high school and is now studying criminal justice and forensics, it certainly was.

“Just knowing I had the scholarship was so motivating; it made everything more real,” Valadez said. “It changed the course of my life.”

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