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Simon Scholars with Estancia Principal Mike Halt


The library at Costa Mesa High School (CMHS) is filled with attentive 10th-graders as Juan Sigala begins his presentation on the Simon Scholar Program. All eyes are on the assistant director of scholar recruitment as he asks general questions about the challenges they believe they face in getting into college, tossing out yellow star-shaped stress balls to anyone who answers. On the screen behind Sigala is a photo of CMHS graduate Jesus Bravo, who was also a Simon Scholar and now substitute teaches at his alma mater.

Since 2014, the Ronald M. Simon Family Foundation has partnered with CMHS and Estancia High School in recognizing students who excel academically while overcoming personal and economic challenges. Sophomores who are the first of their generation to be college-bound, with a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher, and who demonstrate leadership in their school and/or community are recommended by school counselors to apply to be Simon Scholars. 

This year, two students from CMHS and eight from EHS were selected to participate in the Simon Scholars Program, joining the seven students from CMHS and four from EHS that were selected last year.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District Simon Scholars are: 

  • Diana Cocoletzi, senior, Estancia High School 

  • Dimitri Downs, junior, Costa Mesa High School 

  • Sophia Flores, senior, Estancia High School 

  • Jose Gomez, junior, Estancia High School

  • Said Gonzalez, senior, Costa Mesa High School

  • Alfredo Lopez Jr., senior, Estancia High School 

  • Andi Lopez, junior, Costa Mesa High School 

  • Dani Lopez, junior Costa Mesa High School

  • Johana Martinez, junior, Costa Mesa High School 

  • Ulises Martinez, senior, Estancia High School 

  • Yuridia Nava, junior, Estancia High School 

  • Heidi Nunez, senior, Estancia High School 

  • Fernando Palacios, senior, Costa Mesa

  • Joel Perez, junior, Estancia High School

  • Jorge Antonio Puga Jimenez, junior, Costa Mesa High School 

  • Eduardo Silva Mondragon, senior, Estancia High School 

  • Mario Solis, junior, Estancia High School 

  • Danielle Tangeland, junior, Costa Mesa High School 

  • Derick Urbina, senior, Estancia High School

  • Chelsea Vilchis Garcia, junior, Costa Mesa High School 

  • Elizabeth Villafana, senior, Estancia High School 

“This is a uniquely life-changing opportunity for our students,” said CMHS Counselor Janice Duzey.

Students in the Simon Scholars Program receive individualized support from the foundation, including College Access Coordinators offering personalized advice in selecting colleges and guiding them through the application, interview and financial aid processes. All students receive a laptop, and junior students have opportunities to participate in college tours locally and across the nation at no cost to them. 

Students also participate in personal development workshops in which they can learn or enhance their skills in the areas of office etiquette, as well as goal-setting and maintaining financial, physical and emotional wellness. 

Community events and socials allow Simon Scholars throughout Orange County to network with one another as well as with program alumni and local community leaders. At these events, students are encouraged to connect with college representatives and professionals in fields in which they have an interest. Interactions such as these can lead to jobs and scholarships. 

Upon committing to the college of their choice, Simon Scholars receive scholarships worth up to $16,000 each, depending on the amount needed after financial aid.

In addition to submitting at least two letters of recommendation, the application process includes a personal essay written by the students describing how they have or are currently overcoming adversity and an in-person interview with a panel composed of foundation staff and Simon Scholar alumni. 

“Being a Simon Scholar is a privilege and a commitment. We want our scholars to be more involved, more present, in their schools and the community,” Sigala said. 

Applications to be part of the Simon Scholars Class of 2026 are due January 15, 2024. Anyone interested in applying should visit their high school counselor for more information.