Contrasted against the wealth of highly educated people on the Peninsula, a small pocket of high school students living in the rural farming town of Pescadero will be the first in their families to graduate next week.
For the second year in a row, three Pescadero High School graduates will be awarded with the Sustainable Farming Community Scholarship to assist in paying for their plans to go to college.
More than half of the 96 students that make up the entire school in the coastal town just south of Half Moon Bay come from families who didn’t graduate high school, said Casey Norton, a co-organizer of the scholarship who teaches math in the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District and coaches high school boys’ basketball.
“What’s really special about these kids isn’t what they’re missing out on because of their lack of opportunities, but it’s really how inspiring they are because of what they accomplished,” Norton said. “They’ve graduated high school, they’re going on to secondary education and to a lot of people that might seem like a simple thing. But to these kids, it’s really not.”
Teresa Kurtak, owner of Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero, said she and Norton came up the scholarship idea last year. Although the small school district is part of the Bay Area, many students at Pescadero High live in a very different world, Kurtak said.
“We are pretty unusual. We have this tiny little school with a really high percent of parents who haven’t graduated from high school and not a lot of wealth. And yet we’re surrounded by this immense amount of wealth and our little school district doesn’t have a lot of resources,” Kurtak said.
After reaching out to some of the local farms last year, Kurtak said they were able to pool $6,000, which they distributed to three graduates, now attending the College of San Mateo. This year, Kurtak said they’ve been able to raise $7,000, which will be distributed to three of the 24 Pescadero High students at their graduation ceremony June 6.
Valentin Lopez won three high school scholarships and is now finishing his first year at CSM. Born in Mexico, Lopez said he and his parents immigrated to Pescadero when he was 10. Lopez said neither of his parents attended school because they started working very young.
Lopez works at New Leaf Community Market in Half Moon Bay while taking classes at CSM where he’s able to experiment with different career options.
Lopez said he initially wanted to study business, however, now a year in, he’s starting to lean toward a career in criminal justice. Lopez said he’s always loved the idea of solving cases and he’s interested in possibly becoming a police officer or even a firefighter.
Lopez said he also has dreams of transferring to another school but, with the rising cost of tuition, he’s not sure how feasible it will be.
Kurtak said she, and most farm owners, want to provide for their employees as much as they can. There isn’t a high profit margin for sustainable agricultural work, but many of the farmers were happy to help with the scholarship, Kurtak said.
“When there are kids that do want to pursue a higher education, it’s not only a way to say thank you and continue to support our employees that make our operation viable. But it also, in the larger sense, is good for the entire community,” Kurtak said.
Norton said many of the parents who work on farms want their children to attend college, however, it’s very difficult for them to make it happen.
“[The kids] come from really great families. They’re hardworking, they’re ambitious. They’ve made this giant leap, most of them are immigrants, but they just don’t have an education themselves and that’s a really large gap to bridge. And anything we can do to support that, and with a little effort on our part, I think we’re getting major results,” Norton said.
Norton said he saw a trending theme in the applications.
“ I think one thing I read over and over in their application letters was just this real sense that education is something that can’t be taken away from you,” Norton said.
Lopez said he looks forward to continuing to explore future career paths while still trying to live up to the momentous transition and progress his parents made when they first moved to the United States.
“I want to be able to succeed. My parents have done it. From where they were before to where they are now, it was a big step. And you know, right now if I was like they were … I’m starting where they started and I’m trying to build up my future to how they built theirs and actually succeed the way they did,” Lopez said. “And that’s what actually encourages me the most. I want to be able to provide a better life for my family in the future.”
Anyone interested in donating to the Sustainable Farming Community Scholarship can send checks payable to Pescadero High School with SFC Scholarship in the memo line, and mail it to Pescadero High School, P.O. Box 730, Pescadero, CA 94060.