Every senior at school vying for Obama visit is college bound

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on May 4, 2011 at 6:15 PM

BRIDGEPORT, Wash. -- Few people other than the 2,400 who live here have ever heard of Bridgeport, Washington. The town's main street doesn't have a single traffic light. Many here make their livings through the hard work of the fruit orchards.

But Bridgeport High School is poised to put this obscure town on the outskirts of the Okanogan National Forest on the map.

The school is one of just three in the nation now vying to take first place in the "Race to the Top Presidential Challenge." The winner gets President Obama as its commencement speaker.

"For that to happen to a small school like this is just unbelievable," said senior Carina Ochoa.

Schools in San Diego and Memphis are the other two contenders for the "Race to the Top" crown. President Obama will make the final decision on where he will deliver the commencement address. The winner is expected to be announced by the end of this week.

In a state where 30 percent of the students don't graduate from high school, 100 percent of  Bridgeport's senior class has been accepted to college.

"It's the little school that could," said Principal Tamra Jackson. 

Eight years ago, she and her staff decided the status quo wasn't good enough and started increasing expectations, making classes harder and introducing college level courses.

"The closest college is 100 miles from here," said Jackson. "We decided to bring college to them." 

That's when attitudes started changing.

"In my family it would be a miracle for me to get out of high school," said senior Sam Soto. He comes from a migrant family of mechanics and fruit packers. In the fall, he will become the first first in his family to attend university. "The new mindset here isn't are you going to college. It's what college are you going to."

The 37 names on the BHS Class of 2011 roster all look very similar: Gomez, Gonzales, Jimenez, Lopez. It isn't lost on these students that all 200 of them at the school are low income, and the work they're doing goes beyond educating themselves, but enlightening others who stereotype poor migrant communities.

"They stereotype us so bad," said Ochoa, a bright-eyed 17-year-old who plans to study nursing at WSU. "The kids at the other schools are like, 'They're gangsters, they're bad people. We're not bad people. We're students."

On Tuesday a representative from Governor Gregoire's office visited the school, congratulating the class of 2011. They're still hoping a presidential visit will follow.

For the first time in many years, hope is abundant here, among rolling hills of orchards. Hope that from the children of pear pickers and apple packers, future generations will bear fruit at colleges across the country.

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