Going to college wasn’t exactly the expectation for Roger Capuchino, whose parents did not attend college and were of modest means. He took classes at Houston Community College after graduating from Waltrip High School, but never completed a degree.
Capuchino wants his 9-year-old son to aim higher academically, and his son is well on his way.
Roger Capuchino III, a third-grader at Sinclair Elementary in Timbergrove, got a taste of one of the best colleges in the country last weekend. He participated in the second annual Space Day in Space City at Rice University, where he sat in on a lecture by a college professor, attended a baseball game, toured the campus and got to build a toy rocket.
“I’m excited,” said the elder Capuchino, who accompanied his son. “I had never seen a college campus when I was his age. It never crossed my mind. Me being able to do that with my son at a young age, it will put that in his mind and increase his eagerness to push forward.”
Fostering that sort of sentiment is one of the objectives of the National College Readiness Institute (NCRI), a Houston-based nonprofit founded in 2016. It was selected by Houston City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen to receive a $15,000 grant from the Harris County Department of Education’s Case for Kids program.
NCRI founder Michelle Frias said the grant is used to conduct weekly afterschool STEAM workshops at area elementary schools including Browning, Sinclair and Stevens, which have significant populations of economically disadvantaged students. The grant also covered the $20 registration fee for about 45 students from those schools, along with some from Oak Forest Elementary, to attend the daylong field trip to Rice on April 6.
Sinclair principal Lee Mashburn said some of his students who participated in a writing contest also got to go.
“Some of those kids who went, they are hopefully on track to be first-generation college graduates,” Mashburn said. “So we’re exposing them to one of the major universities in the United States. It’s something that probably without an opportunity like that, they might not be privy to.”
Adrian Amaya, a senior account executive in the Rice athletics department, said about 330 kids in all attended Space Day in Space City. It served as exposure to the university for potential future students while exposing them to the science of space exploration.
The students first heard from Dr. David Alexander of the Rice Space Institute and later had some hands-on lessons. They broke into groups and constructed stomp rockets, in which squeezing an empty plastic bottle attached to a flexible tube creates force to propel a toy rocket from the other end of the tube.
The visiting youngsters also toured the Rice campus, were treated to lunch and attended an afternoon baseball game between the Owls and Florida International. There were space-related activities at the ballpark, too, including trivia games and the chance for kids to try on helmets and gloves worn by astronauts.
“We make our entire day into a space theme,” Amaya said.
The idea of reaching for the stars was incorporated as well. The elder Roger Capuchino said the experience stoked his son’s affinity for being adventurous, creative and construction-minded.
Space Day in Space City had much the same effect on another third-grader from Sinclair. Like the younger Capuchino, Aniyah Quezada is an A-B student with a keen interest in science.
Quezada’s mother, Desirai Quezada, said her daughter could hardly stop talking about her visit to Rice after returning home. Now Aniyah wants to go to college there to pursue her dual career goal of becoming a scientist and fashion designer.
“I’m very grateful,” Aniyah said. “I enjoyed myself.”