C.H.A.M.P. graduate Dahyna Ayala receives her diploma.
C.H.A.M.P. graduate Dahyna Ayala receives her diploma.

C.H.A.M.P. Fourth-Graders March Toward a Bright Future

by Abigail Reed

Each year, more than 500 students from Azusa elementary schools graduate from Azusa Pacific University’s College Headed and Mighty Proud (C.H.A.M.P.) program, marching on toward a bright future. For the first time this year, the program that partners with all elementary schools in the Azusa Unified School District (AUSD) and includes every fourth grader in the city, will be held virtually, including a modified, online APU Visit Day and graduation ceremony.

“While we have made necessary accommodations due to COVID-19, our mission to inspire and motivate these students to pursue their hopes and dreams remains at the heart of all we do,” said Michelle LaPorte, director of the Center for Academic Service-Learning.

Since its founding in 1991, this unique partnership between APU and Azusa Unified School District has influenced the lives of more than 13,000 children. C.H.A.M.P. even captured the interest of the local PBS television station and was featured on the series, "Inside California Education."

The semester-long C.H.A.M.P. program focuses on increasing college awareness through a variety of activities, from visiting a college campus to discussing financial aid options. The curriculum is taught in small groups of students led by mentors, APU students enrolled in the Diversity in the Classroom course, who gain practical experience in applying strategies to engage diverse learners in a classroom setting.

“The C.H.A.M.P. program improves motivation and possibilities through the power of relationships” said Paul A. Flores, Ph.D., professor and director of Liberal Studies in the School of Education. “It plants seeds, waters dreams, and grows hope which, later, will help enable access and pursuit of dreams.”

The program inspired ambitious goals in Dahyna Ayala, an excited C.H.A.M.P. graduate. “I love to talk. But I also love to help people. Maybe I’ll be a teacher, or a cancer researcher, or an opera singer,” said Ayala to her mentor. “Maybe I’ll be all three. Do I have to choose?”

In addition to reaching fourth graders across Azusa, C.H.A.M.P. provides encouragement and irreplaceable learning opportunities for the APU student mentors, bringing course content to life.

“Hearing my student read her essay and seeing them all graduate gave me confirmation about my career as a future educator,” said C.H.A.M.P. mentor Kirsten Negrette, ’20. “It was such a privilege that I got to walk alongside these creative, spunky, and world-changing fourth graders. I learned so much from them.”