PHOENIX — A group of third-graders from Madrid Neighborhood School will be going to college for free, thanks to a local nonprofit.
The 89 students and their parents got the news in a surprise assembly-style meeting on Tuesday.
The full-ride scholarships were provided by the Rosztoczy Foundation’s College Promise program, an Avondale private family organization, that is committed to education in underserved communities.
"I am just shocked," said Angelica Sernas, a single mother of a third-grader. "I'm overwhelmed. I'm blessed that [my son] gets that opportunity."
The scholarship covers tuition, books, and room and board at a state school for any four-year program and tuition and books for students who attend a two-year program. The grant is not limited to Arizona universities or community colleges, students can go out of state.
Students must graduate from a high school in Alhambra Elementary School District and be accepted to a college program to receive the full-ride scholarship.
"We're trying to give a boost to kids and communities that could use a boost," said Tom Rosztoczy. "For most of the kids, they don't think college is realistic, because it's expensive and we're trying to change how they think about it."
The scholarship program was founded by Jill and Tom Rosztoczy in 2012. It was inspired by Tom’s father, Ferenc E. Rosztoczy, a Hungarian refugee who was able to further his education by the generosity of others through grants. The father founded the Rosztocsy Foundation in 2005.
The organization focuses on third graders, who Tom Rosztoczy said are at a pinnacle moment in their development years, "old enough to understand and young enough that if they want to change their trajectory with respect to education they still can."
"To have this done for us, it's a complete blessing," said Michelle Chavez, the mother of twin third-graders. "They already know what they want to do in their life, and having this just gives them so much of a boost in life."
Her children, Liana and Dominic were ecstatic about the surprise scholarship, although at first confused, because they saw their mom crying.
"I was scared, but then I realized what it was," said Liana. "I want to be a mathematician and [study] science. I'm like 'Oh my go, so excited,' I really want to learn."
Her brother Dominic said he wants to study reading and math and after the news, "I really want to go to college now."
"Listening to the students as they talked about the scholarship was incredible," said Cecilia Maes, Superintendent of the Alhambra Elementary School District.
"To hear her say, 'You mean I could be anything I want to be?' and so just to know, yeah, you can go to school whether in the state or out of state, you can go to college and money will not be a barrier for you."
This is the fourth time the Rosztoczy Foundation has guaranteed a college future for students in the Valley.
In 2012, 84 third graders in Avondale’s Michael Anderson School got the same promise.
Last year, 63 students from Bernard Black Elementary School were also awarded the scholarship. Then in June, 84 third graders at Marco Anderson Elementary School got the surprising news of the grant.
The latter was the second time students at Avondale Elementary School District were awarded a chance at a brighter future.
"I'm just happy that [my son] got this opportunity to be able to go to college because not every kid can do that," Sernas said.
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