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Originally published September 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 25, 2008 at 6:54 AM

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Ex-Mariner Martinez, wife launch foundation

Edgar and Holli Martinez are launching a new foundation that will support students of color in teacher education programs. In addition, they will provide 10 undergraduate scholarships each year for Latino students at Washington state schools.

Seattle Times education reporter

Information

The Martinez Foundation:

www.themartinezfoundation.org

Minority studentsand teachers

Percent of minority students in Washington schools in 2007-08: 24 percent

Percent of minority teachers in Washington schools in 2007-08: 7 percent

Percent of teaching certificates issued to minorities, 2005-06: 16 percent

Source: Office of Superintendent

of Public Instruction

As a suburban kid in Bellevue, Holli Martinez says, she never felt teachers saw her as smart. Her confidence lagged even after she entered college, and when she married baseball star Edgar Martinez, she dropped out.

Fast forward about 14 years, and Holli found the courage to return to college, if only as a role model for her three children. She recently graduated magna cum laude from the University of Washington's Bothell campus. Edgar, retired after an All-Star career with the Seattle Mariners, had returned to school, too, completing a nine-month business program earlier this year.

When they started thinking about starting their own foundation, education quickly became the theme.

The Martinez Foundation, which launches today, is rooted in their own educational experiences — good and bad — and aims to help more Latino students attend college and more minority students become teachers.

The foundation is just the latest in a long list of philanthropic efforts for the Martinezes — so many that, in 2007, Edgar was inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.

But it's also a very personal project in which they plan to be very involved.

They will start small — and carefully. They're still forming their board, and haven't yet hired an executive director. They've contributed about $200,000 of their own money so far, and at minimum will give 10 scholarships of $20,000 each to Latino undergraduates. But they aren't making promises about how many scholarships they'll offer to students in teacher-training programs until they see how much they raise at their first event, scheduled for Oct. 18 at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle.

They are aware of the difficulties some athletes encounter as they try to do good and want to avoid such mistakes.

But they're also excited about finding a way to help Latino and other minority students achieve more than they thought they could.

"We want to offer opportunities," Edgar says. "That's what we can do.

"What if I didn't have the opportunity? Maybe I'd still be struggling back in Puerto Rico."

The undergraduate scholarships will go to students with at least a 2.7 grade-point average who will attend a college in Washington state. The College Success Foundation, which administers scholarships for a number of organizations, will select those students.

The teachers-in-training scholarships will go to students of any minority group in the Masters in Teaching program at the University of Washington or the equivalent at Washington State University. After graduation, recipients will be expected to teach in low-income school districts for perhaps a year or two. The couple also hopes the foundation will be able to support those students in their first years in the classroom, possibly by providing money for them to get additional training or buy supplies.

The Martinezes settled on scholarships for prospective teachers in part because they think they'll have a big ripple effect, with those teachers becoming role models that students will emulate.

"One teacher can impact so many kids," Edgar says.

As they talk, Holli is on the edge of her seat, speaking with passion about her recent college experience, and the opportunities she almost missed because she feared she couldn't do well. And she grew up without the difficulties of poverty, or learning a second language.

Edgar lets Holli do much of the talking.

When she was in school, she says, she talked to him so much about what she was learning that he joked it was like he was in class with her.

She chose an interdisciplinary major called society, ethics and human behavior, and is now taking graduate-level classes at the UW's Seattle campus.

Too often, she says, students — especially students of color — get the same message that she did at first, that "they can't."

"If it happened to me," she says, "it can happen to anyone."

The two of them say they've each recently been devoting about 30 hours a week to getting the foundation under way.

They've talked to teachers, some of Holli's professors, other foundations, members of the Latino community and more as they've researched what their focus should be.

They learned that only about 7 percent of teachers in the state are minorities, while minorities make up 24 percent of students in Washington. And they've learned how high the dropout rate is for Latino students — roughly 32 percent for the class of 2006.

One day, that research led Holli into the office of Pat Wasley, dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington, now one of the foundation's partners.

Wasley says she was in a cranky mood and asked, perhaps a little brusquely, what she could do for this woman she didn't know. Martinez asked what Wasley would do to improve education, if money was no object.

Wasley talked about the need for more minority teachers.

As Wasley remembers it, Martinez then said: "My husband and I could help with that."

"And who's your husband?" Wasley asked.

When Holli answered, Wasley says, she turned beet-red and said, "Well, I bet you can."

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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