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Francisco Martinez is a senior at San Diego’s High Tech High who’s intrigued by a much more ancient pursuit than computer programming or electrical engineering. He’s fascinated by the likes of Socrates and Plato, and wants to get a college degree in philosophy.

Francisco is applying at colleges across the state, hoping to not go too far away. He still has work to do here at home. Since fourth grade, Francisco has gotten an extraordinary education in values and priorities from Barrio Logan College Institute, his school-away-from-school. Now, he wants to serve and lead at the institute even when he’s in college.

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Francisco says the institute’s guidance and support has taught him how to meet the challenges of preparing for college, such as preparing applications and applying for financial aid. He’s also gained confidence in himself with the extra academic boost provided by BLCI. “Without the institute things would have been very different,” he said.

Barrio Logan College Institute, a nonprofit devoted to helping under-served kids reach for college, provides after-school programs for local students starting in third grade. Many of the students are from San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood, which has long suffered from poverty and neglect. The walls of the institute’s campus near downtown are filled with photos of its success stories: 100 percent of high school graduates enroll in colleges and universities nationwide, 103 students who went on to attend college, and 26 who’ve already graduated from universities such as UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles and Yale University.

First generation college-bound students show off their first college sweaters.

“We prepare students to be the first in their family to go to college and teach them how to make an impact,” said executive director Jose Cruz, who grew up in a single-parent household in City Heights and went on to get degrees from San Diego State and Harvard University. Like all the institute’s staff members, he’s the first in his family to go to college.

In addition to helping older students prepare for college, the institute provides after-school support and homework assistance for children from an early age. Students aren’t the only ones that have to apply to get into the institute. Parents play a big role and have to apply too, where they agree to do at least 30 hours of volunteer work annually.

“They’re an integral part of the Barrio Logan College Institute family,” Cruz said.

Staff members devote special attention to Latino boys, providing them with a necessary space for them to explore personal and academic issues critical to their overall healthy development. With Francisco’s help, Cruz is leading a program called Circulo de Hombres — Circle of Men — to connect the concept of masculinity with academic achievement and leadership. Cruz also encourages older students to serve as role models for the younger ones. Francisco does this already. He attends Barrio Logan College Institute with his two younger brothers and hopes they follow in his footsteps, applying for colleges just as he has. Maybe, like Francisco, they’ll develop big dreams — Plato or no Plato — and a commitment to never forget the institute that’s helping them reach those dreams.

Academic skills aren’t enough for local students at Barrio Logan College Institute. They need financial aid to survive and thrive in their college years.

Learn more about Barrio Logan College Institute’s sponsor, SDG&E.

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