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Casey Christie / The Californian

Manny Mourtzanos will be mentoring Carmen Murillo at Bakersfield College in the newly restructured Cal-SOAP program. It allows BC to more thoroughly monitor academic success of students in its California Student Opportunity and Access Program.

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Photo courtesy of Distinguished Young Women of California

Anne Falcon is a teacher at Greenfield Middle School.

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Kern County students Emily Enns, Hannah Contois and Carmela Alonzo posed for a picture after a rehearsal for the 58th Annual Distinguished Young Women of California State Finals, held July 26 in Bakersfield High School's Harvey Auditorium. Contois, of Bakersfield, placed second in the competition and won overall awards in fitness and spirit categories of the pageant and scholarship program.

CAL-SOAP CHANGES UNDERWAY: Most days, incoming Bakersfield College freshman Carmen Murillo begins an 8-hour workday at 4 a.m. at The Garlic Company on Zerker Road. She travels from her home in Shafter to sort garlic to pay for her personal expenses.

"That is not a future," Murillo said.

Ultimately, she wants to transfer to a university and develop a business to help families in need internationally.

Murillo is a first-generation college student and one of 450 incoming freshmen matched with BC mentors. The idea is to better monitor the course selection and academic success of students from low-income families who are either first-generation students like Murillo, or from areas with few college attendees.

The students are part of a state-funded program called the California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP), which BC implemented in 2011.

The program will start the 2014-2015 year at BC with a Summer Bridge session next Thursday for about 170 students who volunteered to participate.

Summer Bridge is part of a larger BC goal to improve graduation and university transfer rates.

Fewer than half of BC students -- 39.9 percent -- reached that goal within six years of entering college in 2007-2008, according to a state community college scorecard.

Janet Fulks, a BC student success researcher, said she met a first-generation student in June who performed at the highest academic level on BC's placement test in writing, reading and math, but signed up for culinary arts and child care courses based on an uncle's advice.

"He just told me these are the classes girls should take," Fulks said, repeating the student's explanation.

Fulks said first-generation college students make up 80 percent of Central Valley students. Learning how to succeed in college is vital for them.

"They don't even know how to think about what to do in the future," she said.

BC began in Spring 2014 matching its 450 Cal-SOAP students with mentors, assigning them to BC staffers trained in special intervention and identifying them through an alert system matching them with tutoring services if they earn a grade of C or lower on their first tests.

Emmanuel Mourtzanos -- Murillo's mentor and a BC dean of instruction -- said he was a first-generation college graduate and understands how "navigating a system that is unfamiliar can be very daunting."

He earned a doctorate in education from Seattle Pacific University in 2005.

"It's easy to feel a lack of confidence," Mourtzanos said.

But, he added, once students understand they deserve to be in college, they can achieve degrees.

TEACHER OF THE WEEK: Anne Falcon, a sixth-grade teacher at Greenfield Middle School, will begin her 10th year as an educator in 2014-2015. She will be leading the second phase of a corrective behavior program launched in school districts throughout Kern County called Positive Behavior Intervention System.

Falcon oversaw the first phase of Greenfield Middle School's PBIS implementation last year. That focused on rewarding students for positive behaviors with tickets allowing them to participate in face-painting, Wii video games and -- a popular choice -- renting a teacher to do their gym laps or class assignment.

From PBIS, the Greenfield Union School District middle school saw its suspension rate decrease. And the program achieved such success that Greenfield Middle School teachers, some of whom were first skeptical of PBIS, elected Falcon as the school's Teacher of the Year in February.

STUFF THE BUS FOR GREENFIELD: The Greenfield Union School District and Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, will collect pencils, backpacks and other school supplies in a Stuff The Bus event Saturday for children in need.

The district is asking volunteers bring new school supplies from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to the Walmart Supercenter parking lot at 6225 Colony St. in Bakersfield.

Chris Crawford, superintendent of the Greenfield district, wrote in a news release children who have proper tools are more likely to do well in class and complete homework.

"We continue to remain committed to providing our kids with the best learning environment," he said.

WHAT YOU'RE SAYING: Here's the latest buzz from The Californian's Facebook page:

"Eighty-four percent of incoming Bakersfield College students must take remedial courses before college math or English.

"What do you think is happening?"

Andrew Clinton Vanderpool: "It's what happens when you teach kids to pass tests and not teach them to learn anything."

Melanie Williams Wilson: "Parents are unable or unwilling (or in some cases the child is unwilling to do the work) to provide the tutoring necessary to catch a child up or make forward progress (not a teacher's responsibility although many try -- bless them)."

Josh Canales: "The education system has been watered down so much that kids today are not prepared to 'think.' And that is just the beginning!"

LOCAL STUDENT 2ND IN SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM: Hannah Contois, an incoming senior at Centennial High School, placed second in the state portion of the largest and oldest national nonprofit scholarship program for high school girls -- the 58th Annual Distinguished Young Women of California State Finals -- held July 26 in Bakersfield High School's Harvey Auditorium.

Contois, one of three Kern County students participating in the program, also won overall awards in fitness and spirit categories. She earned a total of $6,500 in scholarships.

The local participates -- Contois; Carmela Garcia Alonzo, of Delano; and Emily Enns, of Shafter -- competed against 26 others in preliminary competition that began July 24 in Bakersfield.

Marisa Gomez, an incoming senior at Academy of Our Lady of Peace in San Diego, placed first in the State Finals and earned $15,000 in scholarships.