Santa Rosa school officials hope to inspire dreams through college T-shirts


(l to r) Mario Hernandez, Monica Abarca, Dayanara Solorio read encouraging messages from college graduates at Helen Lehman elementary school in Santa Rosa. Second- and third grade students also received a college t-shirt through The College Tee Project. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)


May 15, 2015, 11:42AM

Vianey Mendoza’s dad is a carpenter and her mom cleans houses, but she would like to be a doctor someday.

The second-grader at Helen Lehman Elementary School in west Santa Rosa took a step toward her dream Friday when she and other students received college T-shirts as part of a program to encourage post-secondary education.

Mendoza, 8, slipped into a blue UC Santa Barbara Gauchos shirt donated by a graduate of the school who also included a handwritten note urging her to go to college.

“It’s nice,” said Mendoza as she patted the oversized tee. “If you pass college, it helps you a lot.”

She was among about 125 second- and third-grade students to receive shirts and listen to words of support from first- generation college grads as part of the College Tee Project focusing on kids whose parents didn’t go to a four-year school.

Lehman Elementary, which has about 95 percent low-income students and 65 percent English-language learners, was the first in the county to receive the T-shirts.

Jenni Klose, a Santa Rosa City Schools board member leading the program, said the goal is to visit all elementary schools to get kids thinking that going to college is a possibility for them.

The T-shirts, which represent schools across the country, give students a tangible connection to college culture that they might not get at home, Klose said.

They also serve as a wearable reminder to parents that their kids could go to college, she said.

“Exposure is key,” said Klose, who wore a light-blue UCLA T-shirt from her alma mater over her blouse. “Having the vision from the beginning is critical.”

The mostly Latino students gathered in the school auditorium to hear from another school board member and a county administrator who were the first in their families to go to college.

Then Klose conducted a survey about attitudes on going to college in which students held up red or green cards to indicate yes or no.

When she asked if students’ parents went to college, she was met with a sea of red cards. When she asked how many students wanted to go, it was all green cards.

Afterward, the students received donated T-shirts.

Giovannio Onofre, 8, donned a blue UC Berkeley T-shirt and smiled.

“It’s awesome!” he shouted, before filing outside for a group picture.

The College Tee Project, a nonprofit group, is supported by private donations. Organizers are seeking founding partners to raise an initial $30,000, which will be used in part to pay for “Pathway to College” posters handed out to students.

They also seek T-shirt donations from individuals, alumni associations and universities.

More information can be found on the group’s website,

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@ On Twitter @ppayne.



Two good ideas for college tees

January 29, 2014, 9:46PM

I’ve just heard my new favorite idea regarding printed college T-shirts.

My ex-favorite came from friend Roger Frost, a world traveler and former director of Sonoma Charter School. He advocated that it be illegal to wear a shirt from a college you didn’t attend.

Such a law would save folks from the exasperation of walking up to someone wearing a shirt from say, University of Colorado in Boulder, declaring “Go Buffs! When were you last in Old Main?” and having the baffled person glance down at the shirt and reply, “Oh, this. I bought it at a thrift store.”

An even better idea comes from Jenni Klose, the Santa Rosa school board member.

She asks that if you were fortunate enough to go to college, you purchase a printed T-shirt from your alma mater and get it to her. And send along with it a note about your college experience.

Klose wants to boost the likelihood that more students will aspire early on to attend college. Toward that end, she seeks to collect 740 college T-shirts; and notes; and give one to each child who enters the second grade at a Santa Rosa public school this fall.

Donors can hand Klose shirts and notes at any school-board meeting, or mail or deliver them to her at 703 2nd St., No. 310, Santa Rosa 95404.

She suggests size child’s large. Room to grow.