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   from the issue of March 23, 2006

San Diego youth adopt UNL


The power of red has landed in San Diego.

CALIFORNIANS FOR NEBRASKA - Kerri Kutzner (pictured back row, far right) and her fourth-grade students at Los Penasquitos Elementary School in...
 CALIFORNIANS FOR NEBRASKA - Kerri Kutzner (pictured back row, far right) and her fourth-grade students at Los Penasquitos Elementary School in San Diego have adopted UNL to learn more about college. Courtesy Photo.

Every Friday, Kerri Kutzner's fourth graders at Los Penasquitos Elementary march in decked out in scarlet and crème. Kutzner greets her class with a, "Good morning, Huskers," before they roll into couple of "Go Big Red" chants. And - in great Husker tradition - they organized a tailgate party in October and Kutzner's students know the words to the UNL fight song.

These students - predominantly underprivileged, English as second-language learners - along with the rest in Los Penasquitos, are taking part in "No Excuses University," a program designed to introduce students to the concept of higher education.

"We found that, through the majority of our student population, this generation of students could be the first kids in their family to go to college," Kutzner said. "So, we decided to push college readiness, get our students and their families thinking about this at a young age, help them beat the odds."

Principal Damen Lopez developed and implemented the No Excuses University concept for the first time this year. Each classroom selected a university to adopt, and by the time this year's kindergarten moves into junior high, they will have been exposed to six universities from across the nation.

"We want college to become second nature to these kids," Kutzner said. "We want it to be ingrained in them that it's not just 13 years of school, it's 17 years of school."

Students learn what college is about, why it is important and how to get into a university. And, through sessions with the school counselor, parents are taught how to support their children, prepare them academically and start saving for college.

When the class selected UNL, Kutzner contacted the university officials and hoped for a positive response. She asked for a few brochures and received the full attention of the university.

Through the assistance of Eric Wolford, an admissions counselor and Marti Paquette in the Alumni Association, Kutzner's class has received brochures, stickers, t-shirts and a variety of items to introduce the students to UNL.

The class has taken a virtual tour of campus and has stayed in touch with Wolford, trading updates - via regular main and the Internet - on campus life.

Wolford will also visit the students in April while on a regularly scheduled recruiting trip to the San Diego area.

"We've received letters back from these kids with pictures, and to see them so excited about UNL is all we could hope for," Wolford said. "Seeing that kind of excitement and learning how this district is improving through their own initiatives is tremendous."

Kutzner said the Husker response has been amazing.

"I have been so impressed with UNL," Kutzner said. "Nebraska has by far been the most supportive of what we are doing here. And, you have set the model for the kind of response that teachers in our school are looking for."

The "No Excuses University" concept is showing promise. Kutzner said students are starting to identify with the year they graduate college rather than high school, and a handful are talking about earning master's degrees.

"My class is all fired up about college," Kutzner said. "And, they all want to go to Nebraska. Hopefully it happens."

The class continues to search for information about UNL. Faculty or staff interested in helping the project can contact Wolford at or 472-0982.



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