Barry Groves and Dee Gibson

Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, recently called MVLA Community Scholars the “difference maker” for local first-generation-to-college students. The program is one of the Los Altos Community Foundation’s social initiatives that serve the area.

Groves explained his comment in the following interview with MVLA Community Scholars board member Carolyn Pierce.

Groves: As a school district, our primary mission is to get students ready for college and career ... and that’s for all students. Sometimes we are more successful with students who have support at home and live in environments where their parents know the (college) process. That means we have to put additional resources and use different strategies to prepare more of those first-generation students for college. You can’t expect them to make up that achievement gap (without help). That is why we have a Tutorial Center, a library and a College and Career Center that are open extended hours.

Pierce: Many of these first-generation students have multiple obstacles. English may be their second language, some are undocumented and most families have a very low combined income. Some teens are already living on their own, some have experienced abuse or parental addiction. A few have even been major providers for their families. It would be difficult for any low-income family to lose valuable financial resources, and unthinkable that they would be able to pay for a college degree.

Groves: So, at one Saturday morning meeting ... we asked ourselves the question, could we do more for these traditionally underrepresented students? Dee Gibson of MVLA Community Scholars had an answer. Her group would find and train mentors to guide seniors through the college application process. We were overwhelmed by the response from the community. They literally rushed forward to work with these students. This community is amazing. ... It is the most empathetic, caring community in which I have ever been involved.

Since its inception, MVLA Community Scholars has provided four-year scholarships and individual mentoring for low-income, high-potential local students. Over time, as a practical expression of its mission, MVLA Community Scholars extended existing programs to include mentoring high school AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) juniors and seniors for college and financial-aid application preparation, SAT training, summer internship assistance and a financial educational program in partnership with Opportunity Fund (OF). After passing an approved course in finances, students may deposit funds into a savings account for college. Up to $2,000 is double-matched by OF to accumulate a potential total of $6,000 in savings for college expenses.

Groves: It is important for (students) to know that if they get the grades and classes, we are going to find a way to help. That is great motivation for ... some to get into college, but others see that anybody can do it, given the determination to stick with the work and the procedures.

Pierce: Do you think students know about the assistance MVLA Community Scholars provides?

Groves: I think you are doing a great job ... absolutely. When it is time to apply to colleges and for scholarships, there has been an increase in the number and quality of applications submitted. Plus, more students are applying to colleges appropriate to their GPAs, interests and finances. It is very powerful to see. Students are noticing that their peers, who come from circumstances very similar to theirs, are graduating and going on to college. They know the families do not have the financial resources but have been able to put the resources together with help from MVLA Scholars.

Pierce: Why is MVLA Community Scholars, in particular, seen as an exceptional resource for the district? Could we be doing more?

Groves: I think MVLA Community Scholars is the difference-maker for many of our students. Many of our students could not attend college without the additional support – in the mentoring, high school through college, and the financial assistance. MVLA Community Scholars is very unique in that it gives four-year scholarships. This year 22 students earned scholarships. I’ve been a reader for scholarship applications and you could find 100 students each year with the academic credentials and financial need. Without scholarships, well, they would be making other choices.

MVLA Community Scholars raises funds for scholarships annually. The entire amount of each student’s four-year scholarship is put into a trust before another scholarship can be awarded. The organization has no paid staff. For one scholarship, averaging $3,500 per year for four years, MVLA Community Scholars must raise $14,000. Last year 22 scholarships were disbursed, but 78 more students could have been served had funds been available.

For more information, visit