Volunteer Georgina Bonse (center) helps ninth grader Amy Albuera (right) and 12th grader Jivanto Van Hemert on the Police Activities League Youth Leadership Council meeting agenda in the PAL computer lab on Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

OLYMPIC BLVD — A late Santa Monica Police Officer who died fighting overseas is giving economically-disadvantaged teens the tools to go to college.

The Santa Monica Police Activities League recently launched a new program that puts freshmen and sophomores on a path to higher education, guiding them through a college preparatory process that not only covers tips on taking the SATs, but provides financial assistance to pay for it.

The program is funded by the Ricardo A. Crocker Fund, named in honor of the late police officer who died in 2005 in the Al-Anbar Province in Iraq.

The fund was established when Crocker’s family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to PAL where the officer was a fixture and helped establish the SAT prep program.

“We were taught about education and how education can transport you to so many different avenues in life and he wanted to provide that for children who necessarily didn’t have that information,” Maria Crocker, his younger sister, said.

PAL, which is an afterschool program, had long provided college counseling for students, including tips on filling out forms for financial aid, but decided to formalize it all into a structured program starting this fall, meeting with a group of interested parents and teens in October before the official launch.

The program specifically targets freshmen and sophomores, starting early so students know which courses they should take through their four years of college.

“The earlier you expose them the higher chances you have with them going to college,” Eula Fritz, PAL director, said.

Each student receives a college-bound plan that plots their courses in following the University of California’s A-G requirements for incoming students, which includes two years of history and social science, four years of English, three years of math, two years of laboratory science, two years of foreign language, one year of visual and performing arts and one year of a college-prep elective.

Counselors keep track of each student as they gradually build their college portfolio, recording all of their grades to see where improvement should be made.

“It’s really just case management,” Fritz said.

Students are advised to engage in extracurricular activities whether its sports or volunteering to better market themselves as a well-rounded student. The program also provides SAT prep courses and help with filling out college applications and essay writing.

It also provides financial assistance for students who can’t afford to pay for the SAT or college application fees. The cost for college campus visits are also covered.

“It’s going to make it so there isn’t a kid going to PAL who can’t afford going to college,” Patty Loggins, the human services administrator for City Hall, said.

More than a dozen students are participating in the pilot phase of the program. Fritz said she is hopeful that more students will sign up next year.

“This program is really a handheld approach,” Fritz said. “A lot of kids want to go to college but don’t know how.

“PAL gives them attention individually as well as collectively to make sure they are doing it right.”

The program is one of several funded through the Ricardo A. Crocker Fund, including tickets for students to Los Angeles Dodgers games and hikes to the Santa Monica Mountains.

An ad hoc committee was set up to determine how to spend the fund, deciding the money should embrace Crocker’s love for the outdoors, love for education and love for the Dodgers.

Maria Crocker said her brother had a special relationship with PAL, respecting the organization for the work it did for the community and building the self esteem of children.

“I think he would be incredibly proud of what PAL has done in the past and is continuing to do,” she said. “He firmly stood for providing the space and the resources to help (children) become educated so they’re empowered to make decisions about their own lives.”

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