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Local Kids Get a Taste of College Life Thanks to Donations, Volunteers

Teachers, administrators team up to take about 200 Novato kids over to St. Mary's College in Moraga for an inspirational day.

About 600 Bay Area kids, including more than 200 from Novato, spent Saturday on the campus of St. Mary’s College in Moraga in a set up by a Novato man to inspire a commitment to education.

Several teachers and administrators brought students in fifth through ninth grades to the college for the tour, a speech by psychology professor Mario Rivas and a game between the St. Mary’s men’s basketball team and Loyola Marymount University.

The event was the brainchild of Christopher Major, a substitute teacher in Novato who serves as president of the Hayward Youth Academy. With a lot of help, he rounded up $9,000 in donations to make the visit possible.

“I’m just decompressing after a really high-pitched Saturday. I’m just on a cloud,” Major said Monday morning just before he taught physical education at in Novato. “We brought 600 kids and sold out the place, and ESPN was there. I want to continue this outreach so we can do it this again.”

The college visit was part of the Advancement Via Individual Determination program targets average students who have the desire to go to college and the willingness to work hard. AVID, a program of the state Department of Education, is designed to increase the students’ opportunities to enroll in four-year colleges, according to its website.

and the Sunrise Rotary of Novato sponsored the Novato kids at the event and helped with bus transportation. Moylan’s owner/founder Brendan Moylan is a 1983 St. Mary’s graduate.

Tanya Madsen, a seventh-grade teacher at , was one of the many employees who helped set up the outing. She was joined in the effort by Whitney Lee and Megan Snover of and Jennifer Marsh Russel of among others. Madsen said the speech by Rivas, a doctor of psychology and a college professor, was particularly well done because he overcame challenges in his home life and academic life himself.

“The guest speaker told them we are all born unique, but we die as copies,” Madsen said told Lamorinda Patch. “He told them that if they have determination and focus, even if they have fear, they can discover who they are inside and achieve.”

Former St. Mary’s star player Omar Samhan treated all the kids to the game between St. Mary’s and Loyola Marymount. The kids got to participate in a quick basketball game during halftime (see attached video). Samhan helped St. Mary’s reach the Sweet Sixteen at the 2010 NCAA Tournament and has played pro basketball as far away as Lithuania.

Each year, the Hayward Youth Academy pairs the school’s top basketball athletes with kids who might not otherwise include college in their dreams for the future. Changing that dynamic was the primary purpose of the event at St. Mary’s.

Major, a Hayward native, was a baseball standout during his career at St. Mary’s and has lived in Novato for two years. Now a substitute teacher, he said the spirit that drives his effort is to live in service to the ideals of Saint John Baptist De La Salle (1651-1719), the patron saint of teachers who was a pioneer in education for the poor. Having a Lasallian approach to life — many would call it “paying it forward” — is part of the Christian Brothers philosophy that is taught at St. Mary’s.

“It is all about living Lasallian and being unselfish,” he said. “The more we are unselfish and support others, the more the riches come back to all of us. … I feel the more negative influences adults show a child, the more excuses they can use to not reach their potential.”

Major said the trip would not have happened without help from so many others including Donna Sciutto with NUSD transportation, school board member Shelly Scott, Jeff King and Paige Gardner from San Jose Middle School, Kessa Early of Marin Oaks High and marketing expert Doug Scott.

— Nick Culum and Lou Fancher of Lamorinda Patch contributed to this report

Hayward Youth Academy February 10, 2011 at 07:14 AM
We are proud to offer resources, and opportunity to Novato Unified School District..and the local community
Novato Chess Club April 10, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Dear Mr. Moylan, "Thank you for getting us the buses and the t-shirts. I really enjoyed it. It was really fun.The AVID shirts were bright, and represented the colors of Novato. The shirts are AWESOME. I hope we can come back to this beautiful campus. I'm really thankful and inspired. I really liked liked the school. It's really big, and its perfect because I'm religious---well I hope we can visit Saint Mary's College again. Sincerely, Mrs. Madsen's 7th grade AVID class Hamilton School
Novato Chess Club April 10, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Dear Omar Samhan, Thank you for the tickets. The basketball game was fun. You are a generous person for giving us the chance to tour the very beautiful Saint Mary's College. The college is very big and beautiful. Thank you so so so much. Iy must have been hard to leave a college so wonderful. Thank you for everything:) Love, Mrs.Madsen's 7th grade AVID class Hamilton School, Novato
NovatoAVID April 07, 2013 at 12:12 PM
Check out NovatoAVID blog detailing the wonderful work of AVID teachers and students in MARIN County
Novato Chess Club May 11, 2013 at 04:20 PM
Thank you Laura Roberts, Novato High School AVID for your help!

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