Now, more than 300 students have joined the mariachi program, which not only allows students to learn to play soulful ballads but encourages them to achieve academic success. Rivera requires a 3.0 GPA to play.
Additionally, Rivera keeps the students busy, giving them experience that they can use to pad their college applications. They play at senior centers across town and travel on weekend’s for gigs at the Sounders game in Seattle, to a Tacoma theater, or to the state capital to play for Gov. Jay Inslee.
After their shows, Rivera makes it a point to schedules visits to universities and community colleges, that way students who come from low-income families have an opportunity to scope out potential campuses. While touring the colleges, scholarship and financial aid advisors meet with the students to talk about payment options.
“If I was at home, I wouldn’t be able to,” student Yajara Ramirez said of the college tours. “My family can’t drive six, four hours away from home because I want to go to college. That’s not possible for me. We have to take care of six other kids.”
Rivera's efforts to get his mariachi students into college has been recognized and celebrated by the University of Washington. His program received a certificate of recognition last year, and all eight students who were accepted into Washington State University received certificates in a ceremony in November.
"This is the United States," Rivera said. "Everyone has possibility."