After nearly a decade, a college school program at Wakefield Middle School must figure out how to adapt when the school closes later this year in a few months.
Though Patricia Lapan died in September, he legacy lives on in the student of the Lapan College Club. She founded the club in 2004 so Wakefield Middle School students could get a head start on saving for college.
Starting in the sixth grade, students can earn $50 for every A on their report card. The money goes into a scholarship fund which can continue to grow through the student's high school years. If they make the choice to attend college, they could have more than $4,000 to pay for school.
"You can give all the money in the world, but you have to prepare the students," said Lucy Kin, the program's executive director. "We work in conjunction with a school and we provide a mentoring program, we provide development of their professional portfolios of all of the kids at the middle school level and they continue working on those through the high school level so they are ready."
The Lapan College Club headquarters are in Wakefield's former library. The middle school on Tucson's south side is one of 11 schools in the Tucson Unified School District that will be closed next year because of budget cuts.
The club has submitted a proposal to district officials to continue leasing the old library. TUSD Chief Operations Officer Candy Egbert said the district supports the program and will do everything possible to help it continue.
More than 1,400 students are enrolled in the program. They will continue to earn money and receive scholarships, Kin said.
"It doesn't matter what school they go to. And that's how it's always been run," she said.
The club's board has not decided how it will accept new members, Kin said.
One option is to adopt the incoming sixth grade class at Hollinger Elementary School. Hollinger is nearby and will expand to accept students who would have gone to Wakefield if it weren't closing.
Patricia Lapan, known as Nana Lapan, woulc have wanted the club to persevere, Kin said.
"Nana adopted the Wakefield community so we want to stay in this community," Kin said.
About 25 percent of the students enrolled in the Lapan College Club will end up attending college, according to Kin. Since the club started, the overall number of kids from Wakefield who enroll in college has grown.
"At the end of the twelfth-grade year there were about six kids who would go to college from Wakefield," Kin said. "Once Lapan started, the first graduating class from Pueblo increased from six to 19."
The number of students enrolled has averaged around 50 for the last few years. Kin hopes new mentoring programs will help boost that number.
In May, some members of the first class of students enrolled in the Lapan College Club will complete their bachelor's degrees. Imelda Cortez will graduate from the University of Arizona with a major in Mexican American Studies, and a double minor in Spanish business and Latin American Studies.
In addition to earning money from Lapan, Cortez received several other scholarships. She said the kids she grew up with did not always see college as an option.
"The people who do go to college, they leave the neighborhood, because that's socially acceptable," she said. "Once you go to college you're at a whole other level."
Cortez will start graduate school at the UA in the fall, studying higher education. She plans to continue mentoring other kids in her community.
"I always like to go back, and just be like, 'Hey I'm in college, but I still like to hang out here,'" Cortez said. "Your parents can come from wherever and you can still go to college."
*Mariana Dale is a University of Arizona journalism student and intern at Arizona Public Media."