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Breanna Reeves |

The Heritage Program was developed during the 2013-2014 school year by now Superintendent Renee Hill to address the gap for African American students finishing their A-G courses, which are prerequisites for attending both UC and CSU institutions of higher learning. 

Prior to the development of the program, while students were graduating throughout the district at high rates, they fell short of meeting academic requirements that would allow them to attend a four-year university.

The program provides academic and emotional support for Black students who need additional guidance as they navigate their academic journey. Teachers and counselors automatically identify students as heritage students if a student identifies as African American.

“We know and understand that the educational journey for many of our African American students is not easy,” explained Rochelle Kanatzar who is the district manager of the Heritage Program.

In April, Riverside Unified School District celebrated 173 Heritage Scholars at North High School. Since the implementation of the program, the district has seen a growth in students regarding A-G attainment, from 30% to 50%, according to Kanatzar. With the Heritage Program, students are given extra support which means providing tutoring and taking a closer look at transcripts to make sure students are on track.

On April 27, the Riverside Unified School District celebrated 173 Heritage Scholars at North High School. (source:

“Our kids just get an additional layer of support, because that’s what equity is. It’s kids getting what they need and the data states that our African American kids need a little bit more care,” Kanatzar explained.

Kanatzar has been in her current role for about four years now and her job is to oversee the program at large and support RUSD site contacts at schools. There are Heritage Programs embedded at school sites across the district, including Ramona High School, Poly High School and North High School. 

Gabriel Thompson, 18, recently graduated from North High School and participated in the Heritage Program where he engaged with other students by supporting them academically. Thompson also said the program was helpful in supporting his college application process and locating scholarships.

Thompson is headed to Stanford University in the fall where he plans to study political science. He offered advice to Heritage students: “My advice to them would be to not be afraid to utilize Heritage’s resources. Often, pride stops people from seeking help, especially when they’re under the impression that they can do everything by themselves and succeed, and not have to rely on everyone. But in order to succeed, or in order to successfully complete education or even just high school as a whole, it takes a village.”

Thompson’s mother, Nicole Petty, was an active parental participant in the program. Petty recognized early on that her son, who is biracial, needed the support and insight of Black role models — “to sort of give him their insight that I can’t as his White mom,” Petty explained.

The Heritage Program was designed to address the academic needs of African American students in Riverside USD by increasing the number of African American students that successfully complete the 15 courses required for University of California and California State University entrance. (source:

Petty said she and her son are very thankful to have participated in the program and expressed gratitude for teachers at North including Angela Washington who is the Heritage site contact at the school.

“This program is needed and necessary. It gives our students a community where they know they have students, teachers, counselors and administrators that are here to support and guide them,” said Washington in a RUSD statement. “If I only had this opportunity when I was in school, I would not have struggled as much as I did.”

With the success of the Heritage Program, which received the Golden Bell Award in 2021, the district launched the Legacy Program in 2017 as a “sister program” that provides additional support for Academic English Learners. Following California’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) framework, both the Heritage Program and Legacy Program provide students with additional academic support to encourage equitable access and opportunities for achievement.

The district celebrated 30 Legacy Scholars in April, bringing the total number of graduates to 275 as of 2022. Kanatzar is also the Legacy Coordinator.

With the success of the Heritage Program, which received the Golden Bell Award in 2021, the district launched the Legacy Program in 2017 as a “sister program” that provides additional support for Academic English Learners. (source:

Both programs also go beyond encouraging academic enrichment in a school setting by exposing students to other cultural and educational experiences like going on museum tours, things outside of “the bubble that is Riverside.” Kanatzar explained that the district has seen improvement among their English learners, from a graduation rate of 50-60% to 90%.

The district is currently in the “infant stages” of examining what these programs could look like at the elementary and middle school level. 

“What we know to be true is that a college going spirit, and an ‘I can’ attitude towards education starts way before high school, it actually starts in elementary school, in kindergarten, to be honest with you,” Kanatzar stated.

“And so we’re trying to kind of devise a plan on what that can look like. We’re very excited about the opportunity to grow this district wide.”

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at or via twitter @_breereeves.