The goal of L.A. Unified is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to graduate prepared for college, career and life. As we near the end of the school year, we are featuring stories about some of the outstanding members of the Class of 2017.

Most afternoons – after a school day that includes Advanced Placement courses and classes in landscaping and video production – Canoga Park Senior High grad Evan Velarde hustles up the street to start his four-hour shift at a local discount store.

He’s been banking his earnings to help pay for college, but that pressure has eased, thanks to a new partnership that is giving Velarde and more than two dozen other Canoga Park graduates a four-year, tuition-free education at Cal State University Northridge.

“This is a totally enriching, amazing opportunity to be the best I can be,” said Velarde, who plans to major in chemistry and pursue a career in science.

Velarde is graduating with a grade-point average of 4.0 – a number he said could have been higher had he not “faltered,” in his sophomore year, earning Cs in classes that he should have aced.

Evan Velarde is among nearly 30 graduates of Canoga Park Senior High who are getting a tuition-free education at Cal State Northridge, thanks to a new partnership between the schools.

“I was playing tackle football then, and I had to make the hard decision whether to continue,” said Velarde, who had been named the Hunters’ offensive MPV. “It was a wake-up call that I needed to focus on school.”

Velarde quit the team his junior year, which allowed him to achieve the “perfect balance” of school, work and community service – mentoring fourth-graders at neighboring Canoga Park Elementary.

“I’m pretty sure I had an impact,” said Velarde, who has two younger siblings. “They were great kids – youthful and energetic. They helped me redefine who I was and who I could be.”

Community service is an important component of the Bridge to the Future Scholars Program, the official name of the Canoga Park/CSUN partnership. Each year, the university will offer a full-ride scholarship to as many as 25 graduates who meet the academic criteria for admission to Cal State University and agree to volunteer in the community while attending college.

Because this is the inaugural year of the program, scholarships were offered to 30 students, all but one of whom accepted.

“‘Bridge to the Future’ really equates to ‘bridge to success,’” said Local District Northwest Superintendent Vivian Ekchian. “It empowers our students to reach their potential and to become active citizens addressing global issues in their local community.”

Velarde was raised by parents who had dropped out of community college, and were determined that their four children would get the opportunities they had missed.

“My parents have instilled in us that education is essential and something that can never been taken away from you,” said Velarde, whose older brother is a business major at Northridge.

“I’ve got to make the best of what they see for me,” he added. “I want to make them proud.”