College: Cabrillo College
Semester Attended ACE: Spring 2005
The first thing Martha Naranjo, 22, noticed when she started Academy for College Excellence (ACE) was that it wasn’t going to be an experience she could just “get through.” She wasn’t going to able to stay quiet in the back row and kill time.
“I thought it was going to be the same as high school,” Naranjo says. “I was just trying to mind my own business.”
Naranjo, who started drinking in high school, was eventually moved to an alternative school for troubled teens where teachers told her they were just “babysitting” students until they graduated. Her drug use escalated.
“I started giving up on everything,” she says. “People thought I was part of a gang. It was everywhere. I just started caring less.” After high school, she was living at home and her older sister, who had completed the ACE program, convinced her to enroll. “I told her I wasn’t going to make it.”
Instead, Naranjo sensed something new in the classroom. “Something woke me up,” she says. “And I liked it. Diego [Navarro] was very supportive and listened. I noticed he looked out for different skills for everybody. It felt nice. He said, ‘Do you know you write well?’ He kind of gives you that look like you could do it. He said that sometimes you just need to hear it from somebody else.”
Martha got straight A’s in the program. She learned leadership skills and the ways of learning that worked best for her. “I don’t know why or how but in that short period of time I felt like staying in school. I actually felt like I was someone. Everybody was supportive and groups brought us together. My mom said, ‘I see something different in you.’”
Martha sees choices now. “I like to write but I also like to make pastries. Social work has always been my main interest.”
In the spring of 2008, Martha earned her associate arts degree and in September she transferred to San Jose State University to study sociology. She works part-time with the California Mini-Corps Program, a corps of college students with a rural migrant background who work as teaching assistants in migrant-impacted schools.
“The foundation from ACE helped me become a successful student,” Martha says. “It’s a little more challenging [at San Jose State]. That’s when I remember that I am the only one that’s helped me and I need to take the initiative to do things myself.
In her first semester, Martha says it feels like a new beginning. “I’m new to everything. There are a lot of changes going on and it’s nice. I learned how to deal effectively with change. That’s one of the main things. It’s a hard one. I feel like I have the skills to be successful. I’m envisioning myself and my goal. I’m not getting side-tracked.”