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Erik Reyes, 13, an 8th grader at Talent Middle School, and his father, Efrain Reyes, will be the first among others to participate in a new program, Pirates to Raiders. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

Pirates to Raiders

Talent eighth-grader Erik Reyes gladly signed his name Thursday to a contract obligating him to try his hardest to finish his homework on his way to Southern Oregon University in five years.

Reyes was among 43 Talent Middle School students who signed up for the "Pirates to Raiders" program. The goal is to nurture these Hispanic students throughout their public school careers and get them on track to join the SOU ranks upon graduation.

The program is named after each school's mascot.

Erik said he is determined to become a Raider to pursue his dream of becoming a music producer.

"I know that college is important," Reyes said. "I know people who leave their homework behind after school. I try to get mine done."

As part of the program, students agree to maintain a 2.75 GPA or higher from eighth grade to their senior year. They also will participate in school-sponsored events such as trips to SOU for additional learning opportunities.

The program calls for them to take challenging courses throughout high school and to apply for financial aid and scholarships during their senior year.

If they achieve these goals, the students are guaranteed admittance to SOU.

As they apply, officials with the school district will hook the students up with mentors that will ease the transition from high school to college.

The students weren't the only ones inking contracts on Thursday, though. Each parent in attendance signed his or her name on the dotted line.

"In my perspective it is important to provide the tools to parents to make them understand this program," said Blanca Harlan, the district's Hispanic parent liaison. "If they know what is expected, they will trust this."

Harlan said first- and second-generation Hispanic parents and students are often intimidated by the paperwork and steps needed to get the ball rolling on college.

"They need help along the way," Harlan said. "We need them to understand that education is for everybody."

Erik's father Efrain Reyes said he supports his son in his school career because he knows how important a college education is in the current job market.

"He is 100 percent committed to school," Reyes said of his boy.

The contract obliges parents to ensure their kids attend school regularly and that they will attend "Pirates to Raiders" meetings and events.

SOU President Mary Cullinan welcomed the students to the program as the contracts were prepared.

"It is my goal to see all the students gathered here tonight at SOU in the next four or five years," Cullinan said.

Erik said he is looking forward to the challenge of homework and college admissions.

"I am trying to be a normal kid like anyone else," he said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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