With apologies to novelist Thomas Wolfe, the Hoover High Alumni Association is proving that, yes, you can go home again.
More than 1,200 active, dues-paying members from San Diego and beyond are doing everything from campus cleanups to donating thousands of scholarship dollars annually to help send Hoover High School students to college. When the 2013 Boys Basketball team won the CIF Division II title, the Alumni Association – among the largest and most active in the region – paid to provide championship rings for everyone on the squad. When last year’s football team was looking to send a group of players to a weeklong summer training camp at San Diego State University, the Alumni Association stepped up with a $1,000 donation to make it happen.
“We will do whatever is asked of us,” said Alice Staninger, Class of 1956, a former Alumni Association president who volunteers at the school regularly.
“Every day at Hoover was a good day for me,” said Alumni Association President Steve Barclay. “We’re just doing what we can to help make the experience just as wonderful for the hard-working students attending Hoover today.”
Few schools are as deserving. Virtually every student at Hoover High School qualifies for the Free and Reduced Lunch Price Program that is based on federal poverty guidelines. Nearly one-third of students are classified as English learners. Forty percent of students were born to parents who do not have a high school diploma, and just 7 percent of parents have a college degree. Minorities comprise nearly 99 percent of the student population.
“It’s amazing what some of these students, especially the ones from other countries, have overcome,” Staninger said. “To be able to give back to the school that you went to is a gift. And the kids at Hoover are fine, decent people. They’re nice. They’re polite. And the staff is absolutely amazing.”
By far the biggest impact the Alumni Association has is through its scholarship program, which is funded through annual, $20 Alumni Association dues and $150 lifetime memberships. Each year, the Alumni Association raises enough money for 10 $1,000 awards – resulting in $100,000 in scholarships over the past 10 years alone.
Money goes directly to the college, university or trade school in which the recipient registers. Students seeking a scholarship must write an essay. Applications are reviewed by an Alumni Association board.
“We’re looking for the worthy students who really don’t have the means that others might,” Barclay said. “Most of the students who have benefitted from the scholarship program have overcome a lot of challenges and a lot of adversity. All 10 recipients from last year were immigrants.”
One of them was Stephanie Phung, who graduated in the spring and enrolled this fall at UC San Diego, with a goal of earning a doctorate and launching a career in pharmaceutical research. Stephanie grew up in City Heights with an older brother, now attending UC Irvine, and their parents. She has always excelled in school and has never earned anything less than an A on her report card.
She speaks highly of her alma mater.
“Other people may talk badly about Hoover, but it’s filled with people who are low-income and first-generation, and the fact that so many students are going to UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego is amazing,” Stephanie said. “So how can a high school with so many students who have been accepted into the top universities be anything but a good place?”
Barclay’s graduating class, the Class of 1964, is typical of the students who earn their high school diploma at Hoover. Classmates – and Alumni Association members – included Sarah Purcell, known in high school as Sarah Pentecost, who went on to become an actress who later hosted the TV show “Real People”; Ed Hanks, who set the national high jump record and went on to compete at Stanford University and who now works as a cardiologist in Fresno; and Rob Puccini, founder of a San Francisco-based, internationally recognized, hospitality consulting and interior design firm.
Barclay hasn’t done too badly for himself, either. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cal State Long Beach and has worked as a military contractor for nearly 40 years.
“I know it’s bragging and boasting, but it’s true,” Barclay said. “We were the top high school in San Diego County in terms of enrollment, athletics and academics. There’s no reason why we can’t reach those heights again.”