Juan Pardo/Special to The S.F. ExaminerPitcher Sergio Romo spoke and signed autographs to students at Lafayette Elementary School on Tuesday in The City. His talk was part of Washington High School’s Athletes in Math Succeed program.

Professional athletes coach Lafayette Elementary students on importance of education

Meeting a Major League Baseball player as a kid helped inspire Giants pitcher Sergio Romo to become a professional ballplayer, despite others telling him he didn't have what it takes.

That's why, when Romo visited Lafayette Elementary School on Tuesday as part of an annual event to encourage students to work hard in school, he said he was more nervous talking to the approximately 100 fifth-grade students than he gets before pitching a game in front of 40,000 fans at AT&T Park. Romo knows what it meant to him to meet relief pitcher Rudy Seanez as a youth.

“It's more personal to me,” Romo said of visiting the school, where he high-fived kids and signed their baseball paraphernalia. “I can relate to this program.”

For 10-year-old Lafayette student Saul Jauregui, who has a picture of Romo as the screensaver on his iPad, meeting his favorite Giants player was a dream come true.

“He signed this ball for my sister and me,” Saul said, proudly displaying a baseball with Romo's signature. “I told him good luck on beating the other teams.”

It was the fourth time Romo has visited Lafayette for the event put on by Washington High School's Athletes in Math Succeed program, in which high school students and professional athletes cheer on students to succeed in school.

The program, founded in 2006 by Washington math teacher Ed Marquez and his wife, Michelle, connects 15 high school athletes with 15 elementary students about once a month in a big brother-type environment. It emphasizes the importance of studying math in high school, primarily among minority students who play sports.

“I would see a lack of minority students in high-level math classes, including calculus and precalculus,” Marquez said. When he examined why, Marquez said he “found out a lot of them were student athletes who felt they didn't have the time.”

Marquez and his wife responded by mentoring students out of their home with the intent of ensuring high school athletes didn't let sports hinder their education. Their efforts evolved into the AIMS program, which has become the inspiration for a movie in the works by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Jon Macht.

Also on hand for the event Tuesday was Washington alumnus Grandville Taylor, a football player who tried out for the 49ers on Friday, and professional basketball player Jerome Gumbs.

Taylor was one of the first students to participate in the AIMS program while in high school, and said he was glad to be able to continue promoting the importance of education.

“Work hard, try your best,” Taylor told the students at the assembly portion of the event. “If class is boring, look up, take a deep breath and focus,” he said to laughter from the students.

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