Claudia Diaz will tell you that going to college changed her life. The Dinuba High School alum played soccer at UC Merced, traveled to Mexico and Spain to train with professional teams, and graduated in four years.  

Now she’s back in her hometown, coaching the freshman soccer team and substitute teaching seventh graders at Dinuba Unified. And she knows her presence in the district is a powerful way to propel them to follow in her footsteps.

“I feel like my students are able to see themselves because we come from the same humble background,” she said. “My parents are field workers — a lot of our students, their parents are field workers. … If I can do it, they can do it.”

And now there’s a new program that will make it easier for students to follow her to Merced.