In 2011, the superintendents of Ontario-Montclair School District and Chaffey Joint Union High School District signed an agreement with the presidents of Chaffey College and California State University San Bernardino. These leaders envisioned a thriving community built by ensuring that every student was introduced to the opportunities available to them after high school graduation and by giving them the tools to pursue them.

The Promise Scholars program was launched with the creation of the nonprofit Ontario-Montclair Schools Foundation. Today, the program serves 20,000 K-12 students and 1,000 parents every year. Through funding and volunteer support from the community, Promise Scholars provides students and parents with information and guidance on attending college. The program defines college more broadly to include everything from career certificates to doctoral degrees.

Promise Scholars introduces college and career curricula in every elementary school classroom. Students in the 5th grade visit a community college and 6th graders receive presentations from business leaders. When students are in the 8th grade, they visit a four-year college. Simply visiting a college can have a huge impact, according to Promise Scholar’s Executive Director, Dr. Felix Melendez.

“All around the country we have kids who live their lives bordered by highways,” Dr. Melendez said. “Taking them to a campus and letting them have lunch on the greens or see the technology available there, this is what shapes dreams.”

In high school, Promise Scholars assess their strengths, engage in career exploration, learn about college requirements and receive assistance with financial aid applications.

The program partners with Chaffey College, CSU San Bernardino, University of La Verne, Cal Poly Pomona, CSU Bakersfield, University of Redlands, and Azusa Pacific University. Promise Scholar graduates have a place waiting for them at these colleges. The City of Ontario also provides scholarships for up to two years for high school graduates who reside in the city and wish to attend community college in California.

The Promise Scholars program has been highly successful and the students served have a college attendance rate that is 40% higher than the rest of the nation, according to Dr. Melendez. Many of these students are also the first generation in their families to attend college. This is often due to a lack of awareness in scholarship availability or a lack of understanding in how to navigate applying. Last year $37 billion of Pell Grants went unclaimed, he said.

Recently, Promise Scholars received a grant from the CIELO Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The program relies on grants and volunteers to provide the programming and to provide students actively completing the program in high school with opportunity grants. All of the students who remain in the program are eligible to receive a grant and the winners are randomly drawn. Smaller scholarships for $500 and $1,000 are drawn along the way to encourage students to continue with the program, ending with a drawing for a $10,000 grant.

Community members who wish to help the program can donate to the Ontario-Montclair Schools Foundation or volunteer with the program. Promise Scholars always welcomes professionals who are willing to share their college and career journey with students. One Promise Scholar alumni who went to Pepperdine University and became lawyer returned to his elementary school to share his story with the students. Meeting people who grew up in their neighborhood and succeeded can have a huge impact, according to Dr. Melendez. He encourages everyone to meet the youth in their community whether or not they are Promise Scholars and to share their stories of success.

It is important everyone believes in their kids and community,” Dr. Melendez said. “We are doing great things and we have great kids. Believe in our kids and believe in each other.”

More information: or 909-284-1563

This article originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, April 2023.

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