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Rotary gives Tijuana students leg up to college

Students taught English, computer skills weekly

It is arguably the smartest $55 ever spent.

For the 27 students in the Tijuana Scholars Program, this monthly stipend is a matter of survival. For the La Jolla Rotary Club, which puts on the curriculum, it is an investment in the students’ futures.

Every Saturday, students, starting as young as sixth grade, come out of the poverty-stricken area of Tijuana to three rented computer lab classrooms in a Tijuana strip mall, where they learn vital English and computer skills.

“They’re thrilled to be there,” said Tina Deroche, one of the original teachers. “They understand this is the way it is in poor Latin American countries. Education is only mandatory through sixth grade, so if you’re poor by the time you graduate sixth grade, that’s it for schooling.”

That’s also where the $55 American stipend comes in. Students, and their parents, have to sign a commitment guaranteeing attendance both in this Saturday program and in regular schools. They are expected to stay in the program until high school graduation. If not for the extra cash, the participants would most likely have to stop their education and begin working to support their families.

“They all have the same dreams and goals as all kids,” Deroche said. “It’s just that poverty most of the time will stunt your ability to go on.”

With the help of the Tijuana Rotary Club, students are selected from local elementary schools based upon need, academic promise and a stable home environment that can encourage them to stay in school. The program started in 1998, and has continued each year since, thanks, perhaps ironically, to the very computer technology it teaches.

Instructors from the La Jolla Rotary club temporarily stopped their weekend visits last year when violence along the U.S.-Mexico border increased. But thanks to Skype and the Internet, students continued to attend the classes each Saturday morning. They worked on laptops, while teachers taught them remotely on a 6-foot screen. It was only last month that in-person sessions resumed.

Deroche said the students did not miss a beat, even with on-screen instructors:

“At times, it was equally gratifying over the computer because it was so cool and does work. It enabled us to keep it going.”

For more information on the Tijuana Scholars Program, contact director Marc Lanci at marclanci@yahoo.com.