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. Graduation: Fourth-Graders March Toward Their Hopes and Dreams

by Abigail Reed

From paleontologists to video game designers, the announcer declared the future careers of the fourth-grade students as they proudly crossed the stage to receive their diplomas. On Wednesday, April 10, more than 300 students from Azusa elementary schools graduated 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 partnered with all elementary schools in the Azusa Unified School District (AUSD), now including every fourth grader in the city.

“Watching the students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas in front of their family, teachers, and APU mentors, brings the impact of the C.H.A.M.P. experience to life,” said Michelle LaPorte, director of the Center for Academic Service-Learning. “The program inspires and motivates students to pursue their hopes and dreams.”

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. Recently, C.H.A.M.P. captured the interest of the local PBS television station and is 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.

“By providing awareness about college and a chance to experience a university campus firsthand, the C.H.A.M.P. program reduces barriers these students may face and provides meaningful opportunities,” said Tolulope Noah, Ed.D., professor of Diversity in the Classroom. “It plants seeds which, later on, will help enable them to access and pursue their 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.”

Abigail Reed is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. She is a liberal studies major with an honors humanities minor.