An intensive seven-year college prep program sponsored by USC seems to have paid off for 54 South L.A. students -- who have all completed the program, are graduating from high school and are going on to a four- year or two-year college.
The Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program focuses on students in area public schools and enrolls them in a rigorous supplemental program that begins in the seventh grade and lasts until graduation. They attend math and English classes at USC in the morning before school starts, have tutoring during the week and daylong classes on Saturdays.
This year, all 54 of the program's graduates are going on to continue their education.
"To date, 695 South L.A. students have graduated from the NAI program and gone to college - that's huge in our community," said Kim Thomas-Barrios, NAI's executive director, in a statement. "NAI works because we provide the academic rigor every child needs. We bring them to the USC campus to learn math and English in a university setting, where many never thought they had a chance to attend."
Some of the graduates will be going to University of Southern California schools, others at West Point military school and Almost half of the graduates, 26 to be exact, will be attending USC on a full-tuition scholarship. According to USC's website, this offer is extended to any program graduate who meets their admission requirements and finishes the NAI program.
Two brothers, twins Arnulfo and Jesus Moran, will be the first and second person in their family to attend college. Jesus is the first person in NAI's 20-year history to be accepted to Harvard -- he will study political science. Arnulfo is attending the United States Military Academy at West Point and plans to major in mechanical engineering.
The program's 100 percent graduation (and then moving on to college) rate has been consistent for the last 10 to 11 years.
"It'd be a failure on everyone's part if these children aren't moving on to college," said Thomas-Barrios, citing the tireless effort put in by students, their families and teachers alike.
This year, the NAI program will begin a year early -- starting with sixth graders. While 120 students usually start the process, only 70 make it to the high school level and often about 15 more end up leaving the program, said Thomas-Barrios.
She added that it's normally the children's parents who encourage them to pursue the program -- after all, recruiting for a college prep program in middle school may be difficult without their help.
"Its really the parents who are pushing the child and we're pulling..." Thomas-Barrios said, adding that for the first few years at least it is the adults who keep the students moving through the grueling program.
This year's graduates are coming from Manual Arts High School and the Foshay Learning Center. Most students who have opted for a two-year college are doing so in order to transfer in to USC once they meet the necessary requirements, said Thomas-Barrios.
Photo Credit: Flickr via jeco