In the news: Harvard-bound student credits success to Garden Grove superintendent’s mentor program

A Spectrum News 1 crew recently highlighted the inspiring story of a Garden Grove student’s journey to Harvard University and a unique mentor program that helped him achieve his dream.

As we’ve previously mentioned, Sebastian Lozano, class of 2021 graduate and co-valedictorian at Los Amigos High School, was thrilled when he received the news on Dec. 17 that he was accepted to the university he could only dream of attending.

Superintendent Mafi and Sebastian Lozano

Garden Grove Superintendent Dr. Gabriela Mafi poses with her mentee and Harvard-bound student Sebastian Lozano.

As the eldest son and the first in his family to go to college, Lozano told Spectrum News Reporter Vicky Nguyen that getting accepted into Harvard took more than getting straight A’s. It took a mentor.

“I’d tell people that I want to attend Harvard, and then they’d smirk at me, smile, laugh and say, ‘You know that school is only for smart people.’ I don’t think they meant it, but not for minorities,” Lozano said.

But to find that mentor, Lozano didn’t have to look any further than Garden Grove Unified Superintendent Dr. Gabriela Mafi.

Lozano received support as a member of the district’s College and Career Mentorship Program, launched by Mafi when Lozano was in sixth grade at Russell Elementary. For the past seven years, Mafi has met with Lozano and her group of mentees monthly, equipping students with scholarly habits, a growth mindset, motivation and college readiness skills.

Spectrum News reports that Mafi used her own experience as the daughter of Mexican immigrants to break down the walls between her and her students.

“I try to be like a second mom, but a pushy mom to my mentees,” said Mafi. “You don’t have to have straight A’s, but you need to be willing to work hard, and you have to have a commitment to go to college.”

Mafi’s unique mentor program — which earned a distinguished 2020 Golden Bell Award — began in 2013 as a grass-roots effort when the superintendent recognized a disparity amongst students of high poverty and their realization of college attainment in the future. According to the district, the program now supports hundreds of students, taking them through a researched-based curriculum designed to foster motivation, self-efficacy, growth mindset and self-regulation.