The outstanding turnout for the first Success After High School conference, held on Saturday morning at Napa Valley College, surprised even its planners.

 More than 250 participants, primarily students with their parents, showed up at the Little Theatre at 8:30 a.m. to learn how to plan for college and careers.

The conference was an outgrowth of the P-16 Council, a group of educators, business and community leaders who have been meeting over the last two school years.

The purpose of the council, convened by the county office of education, is to engage the community in closing the achievement gap that exists between various racial and demographic groups, and to ensure that every student in Napa County has the necessary information to prepare for a high-skill, high-wage and satisfying career.

Opening speakers Arty “Party” Reyes and Ricky Hurtado shared their journeys through higher education, followed by six workshop choices exploring everything from the options after high school, to where to get academic support for college students, how to fund a post-secondary education and ensuring your child’s safety at college.

To keep everyone’s energy up, the ROP culinary programs at Vintage and American Canyon high schools provided scrumptious scones, breads and fruits.

Every attendee received a goody bag, and dozens of fabulous prizes donated by local businesses were given to lucky participants.

The student panelists who closed the conference at the end of the day put everything in perspective.

Several students said that they had not been the best students in high school, but that they overcame a rocky high school career in favor of success when they transitioned to college.

A large number of school and community-based organizations were mentioned as being invaluable in that process.

As one student put it, “I didn’t like the way my life was going. I wanted to give something back to my community.

If it weren’t for LAYLA (Leadership Academy Youth Leaders in Action), I probably would still be going down the wrong path.

You just have to make up your mind to do it. If you put in the work, you can succeed. Grab the opportunities that are offered to you!”

If you missed this year’s conference, we promise that the second annual Success After High School will be even bigger and better in 2012.

 In the meantime, check out these high school, college and community programs that students credited with helping them to succeed: MESA, Puente, AVID, Puertas Abiertas and LAYLA.

For advice on how to choose a bright and rewarding future, look up the following websites: California Career Zone ( and Road Trip Nation (

Also, never forget the tremendous resources available to you just by talking to the counselors in the middle schools, high schools and at Napa Valley College.

They really care, and they can help you plan your education and training to prepare you for an exciting and fulfilling career.

(Nemko is the Napa County Office of Education superintendent. She lives in Napa.)