College journal: Swapping cardinal and gold for orange

Jesus Vargas and Luis Moctezuma recently said goodbye to South Los Angeles and hello to college — far off at Syracuse University in New York. Both had learned digital skills through classes at South L.A.’s TxT (formerly URBAN TxT), a nonprofit that works with inner-city boys to develop tomorrow’s technology leaders, and hope to one day bring change to their communities. To do that, they’re first going across the country. (And now rooting for the Syracuse Orange football team instead of cardinal-and-gold USC Trojans.)  Check back for updates from Vargas and Moctezuma’s journal chronicling the challenges and rewards of attending college far from home.


Oscar Menjivar, in orange, accompanied Jesus and Luis to get settled at Syracuse.

Thoughts before arrival

Jesus: The closer I got to college, the more people wanted to talk about it. Everyone wanted to know if I was ready, excited or nervous. My generic response was, “Yes, I’m excited.” But the truth is that I wasn’t really thinking about school. When I graduated from high school I felt as if I had just taken a deep breath after completing a tedious task; the last thing I wanted to think about was the next step of my educational journey. [Read more…]

From Watts to Walla Walla: The burdens and the blessings of my college education

Alisha Agarde (l) and author Ashley Hansack (r) at a First Generation Mentorship Program Dinner at Whitman College in 2013

Ashley Hansack (right) with a fellow student at a First Generation Mentorship Program Dinner at Whitman College in 2013. | Ashley Hansack

During the fall of 2010, I applied to eighteen colleges and universities across the United States. As a first-generation, working-class, Latina applicant, college counselors prompted me to highlight my diversity in my college essays.

“You are different,” they would say. “Use that to your advantage,” their smiles would imply. Essay upon essay, I would highlight characteristics about my family, my school, and my community that seemed trivial and unimportant to my identity. Yes, my blood runs with 100% Mexican heritage. Yes, my mom raised my four sisters and me on her own under a housekeeper’s salary. Yes, I grew up living in the ghetto streets of communities like Watts and Compton. Yes, unemployment and food security were at the forefront of many family discussions. I would be praised by my mentors and counselors, who urged, add more details here, a little more pity there, and girl, you have yourself an award-winning essay. [Read more…]

Will South LA benefit from SAT upgrades?

Changes to the SAT, which will be implemented in Spring 2016, claim to make the test more accessible and might bring more to highly-ranked universities, such as USC. | Jordyn Holman

Changes to the SAT, which will be implemented in Spring 2016, claim to make the test more accessible and might bring more to highly-ranked universities, such as USC. | Jordyn Holman

Whenever the SAT gets revised, controversy trails close behind, especially regarding fairness across the board for test-takers from all backgrounds. Many educators have criticized the newest iteration of the test College Board announced this month, which is set to go into effect in two years. But some veteran educators are saying the revamped version holds promise.

Jennifer Hollie, who runs the college prep program for the Challengers Boys and Girls Club in South Los Angeles, feels optimistic about what the new format portends for students from disadvantaged communities.

“For [the College Board] to change the way the SAT is being written is a positive change,” said Hollie, who assists high school students from underserved communities with the college admission process by involving them in comprehensive programs.

“Even with my master’s degree I don’t always understand the words that they’re giving,” she said.

The revisions to the SAT include the elimination of obscure vocabulary words and the penalty for guessing wrong. It will also adapt the essay, which became mandatory in 2005, so that it is an optional test component, according to a College Board press release. The new SAT will have three sections, including reading and writing, math and the optional essay. It will be scored out of 1600 instead of 2400 points.  [Read more…]

OPINION: Brother’s Keepers & #WhiteMenMarching while LAUSD makes school tougher

Obama may aim to help young men of color through his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles the school district is raising its high school graduation standards — and will need to make a concerted effort to help its most disadvantaged students.

Young Men of Color forum | Sikivu Hutchinson

Men of Color College Forum at Gardena High School | Sikivu Hutchinson

According to GOP Congressman Paul Ryan, an insidious “inner city culture” has prevented “generations” of “inner city” men from seeking jobs. Evoking the ghost of the GOP past, present and future, shiftless lazy black men with no work ethic are to blame for the high rates of unemployment in the U.S.’ ghettoes. Ryan’s comments were no doubt a desperate attempt to stay relevant and on message after not receiving an invitation to be grand dragon (marshal) of the “nationwide” White Man March.

A few weeks before Ryan trotted out his Black Pathology 101 thesis, President Obama announced that the administration would spearhead a “Brother’s Keeper” initiative to address the dire socioeconomic conditions confronting young men of color. A central focus of the initiative is improving college-going rates for African American and Latino young men, who lag behind women of color in college admissions. Another is reducing Black and Latino mass incarceration.

See also on Intersections: Obama announces My Brother’s Keeper for young men of color

[Read more…]

New SAT still tough for minority and low-income students

SATThe SAT is getting another makeover and the College Board touts the test will be easier and more accessible to all students.

Unveiled last week, the standardized test will now contain more “relevant” vocabulary words, fewer math topics, an optional essay and an “evidence-based” reading and writing section. The Collage Board also promised that this test will give more minority and low-income students access to free online test prep resources and fee waivers.

But going back to a 1600-point scale, making an essay optional and offering more online classes won’t solve the access problems many of these students face when trying to take the test, some experts argue.

Click to hear their perspectives in an audio piece from Annenberg Radio News:

[Read more…]

Local non-profit battles infant mortality rate

With National Minority Health Month quickly approaching, a local organization confronts the Black infant mortality rate—a decades old problem—by empowering one college-educated woman at a time. Click here to read more.

New organization provides academic resources to locals

By Josanta Gray
Associate Editor

SOLID USC, Students Organizing for Literacy, Inclusion and Diversity, is looking for youth to participate in their first annual conference on February 16, 2013. image

“The SOLID Steps to College Conference is an opportunity for me to provide my hometown community with resources that were missing from my educational career. It is my hope that this conference will not only empower the youth who attend but encourage them to purse education at vast levels of the university system,” said Jacqueline Jackson, the vice president of SOLID USC.

USC Students Rikiesha Pierce and Jackson created SOLID in response to the current state of education in the United States and with the intention of decreasing disparities in education amongst minorities.

The SOLID USC conference will be run by a large group of undergraduate and graduate students on Trousdale Parkway beginning at 8am. The event will include a host of workshops, panel discussions and cultural shows for youth in both junior high and high school to enjoy.

Representatives of SOLID USC are excited that the day long event will connect those with a recognized need for academic resources in South Los Angeles to the USC community.

Youth between the grades 7-12 grade are encouraged to preregister for the event using an online form at!form/cvls.

OpEd: Sending kids off to college unprepared

By Amanda Riddle, Mike Fricano and Linda Bowen

imageFrom the moment kids walk through the kindergarten doors their schools are pushing them to aim for college, and with good reason. Even in the slow recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, unemployment for college graduates was 4.2 percent in January 2012 compared to 8.4 percent for high school graduates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And by 2018 as we become a more tech- and information-based economy, nearly two-thirds of jobs will require at least some college education, according to a 2010 report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Sadly, despite our increasing emphasis on the importance of college we’re failing to provide the proper conditions for students to get to college, let alone succeed once they’re there. Early last year, the California Legislative Analyst’s Officer of Higher Education noted in an issue brief: “The CSU currently admits many students who are unprepared for college-level writing and math.” In 2009, the number stood at 58 percent of freshmen. About 26 percent in 2010 were considered unprepared for college-level writing in the UC, while “almost all community college students have remediation needs.”

Last fall the Youth Media Los Angeles Collaborative, a consortium of advocates who engage and nurture young journalists, surveyed more than 1,800 high school and middle school students about how recent draconian budget cuts have harmed their ability to learn. From overcrowded classes of up to 50 students to not enough books and computers to dirty bathrooms, the answers revealed how much we’re sabotaging our country’s future.

Two-thirds of the survey respondents said that overcrowded classrooms make them feel like their teachers don’t have enough time to teach. Overcrowding takes away more than a teacher’s time.

Fifty-seven percent of students reported copying information from an overhead projector because there wasn’t even enough paper to make photocopies. Even though we’re heading into a more digital economy, 52 percent said that there aren’t enough computers. And 51 percent say students have to share textbooks.

When we asked about conditions at their schools, only 15 percent said their school was in good condition. Nearly two-thirds said that the bathrooms needed fixing and about half said there were graffiti-covered walls, faulty air conditioning/heating and that desks and classrooms needed repairs.

“Not all classrooms have air conditioning so in the summer it gets really hot,” one respondent answered. How can students be expected to focus their best when they’re dripping with sweat? And how much will students believe we genuinely care about their futures when we don’t care enough to pay to have the graffiti-tagged walls re-painted?

Not surprisingly, one in five students said that they’ve thought about leaving public school because of problems at their schools. Thirteen percent said budget cuts have affected their ability to get the classes they need to graduate. One wrote: “If you fail any classes you’re not able to retake it because classes are full.” Another said that he had to take Spanish 2 at Pierce College because his school no longer offered it. A third wrote: “Cutting summer school made it harder to catch up on the credits I need.”

Yet despite our failure to provide what these students need, nearly all of them said that they’re planning on attending college, with the majority preferring a four-year public university.

But, qualified students will find seeking higher education much more difficult in the coming years as California’s public colleges and universities grapple with significantly diminished funding even if the Governor’s tax initiative passes in November. In fact, the state has cut higher education general funding by $2.65 billion since the 2008-09 academic year. If the tax initiative fails, both the University of California and California State University systems are bracing for “ballot trigger reductions” of $200 million for 2012-13. For the California Community Colleges system, the budget picture as proposed by Gov. Brown is flat, with a predicted decline of $147 million that may be offset by property taxes from the elimination of redevelopment agencies.

Meanwhile, as California college admission applications have risen dramatically over the last three years, tuition, at least in the short term, is expected to surge – again and again – to “backfill” the budget reductions at the expense of higher costs for providing Cal Grants to financially needy students. Those who actually get in will undoubtedly face other major obstacles, including restricted enrollment targets limiting the number of classes they can take or in meeting the requirements for obtaining financial aid.

Officials expect important programs and resources, such as services to students with learning disabilities and mental health issues, could be sacrificed as well. At CSUN, student journalists in the YMLAC project who have been probing these issues for a special report in the Daily Sundial learned that while annual budgets for these services have remained static for several years at about $750,000, growing numbers of students with these needs will be arriving on California campuses in coming years.

California students have adopted the goals we’ve told them to set for themselves, but by annually cutting money for teachers, programs and resources and raising tuition we keep placing that aspiration further out of reach.

Amanda Riddle and Mike Fricano are the co-managing editors of the independent teen newspaper L.A. Youth. Linda Bowen is associate professor, California State University, Northridge Journalism Department. They are members of the Youth Media Los Angeles Collaborative.

YESS they can: Compton foster students strive for success

An old apartment complex with barred windows is the headquarters of El Camino College Compton Center’s Foster Care Education Building, a place that provides resources and support to help foster students succeed. There are a variety of adult and youth programs offered by their Foster & Kinship Education, but one in particular seeks to improve all aspects of foster students’ lives: the Youth Empowerment Strategies for Success program (YESS).

On Tuesday evening, YESS coordinator Shateo Griffin and instructor Johnny Conley invited potential students to learn more about the program. The one-hour meeting was part informational session, part support group for the foster students who simply want to graduate high school or further their college education. Over a dinner, Griffin and Conley explained the basics of the YESS program to a room of about 15 interested students.

imageIn order to participate in the YESS program, students must enroll in two El Camino College classes: Introduction to College Planning and Career Planning. Although all El Camino college students can enroll in these classes, priority is given to foster students. The state-funded program is geared towards students ages 16 to 21 and meets twice a week for 12 weeks. Four modules covering education, employment, life skills, and financial responsibility are taught through a series of workshops and in-class speakers. Once the 12-week program is complete, students are guaranteed a job in the summer, as long as they enroll as a full-time college student during the school year and graduate high school or earn their GED.

During the informational session, program coordinators stressed that they wanted to cater to students’ specific needs. Griffin said if students had questions for probation officers or Planned Parenthood services, they had speakers lined up to answer their questions. She also offered to find representatives for each students’ individual educational and career interest. Some subjects covered in class are how to obtain a social security card, writing a resume, practicing for a job interview, and opening a bank account. Students will learn about managing money and applying for financial aid and scholarships.

Some students participate in the YESS program because they need help passing the California High School Exit Exam. One Compton student said “I’m trying to make up some [high school] credits to get back on track. I got knocked off… but I got my head right.” Others simply want to ensure they stay on the right track to graduate college. One student interested in the program already completed coursework to become a pharmacy technician but was returning to school to become a probation officer.

Conley, the only YESS instructor and a USC Masters of Education PASA alum, said: “You can benefit from [this program] if you’re trying to get ahead or catch up.” YESS has a 100% success rate, where every student completes the program and goes on to secure a summer job. According to Conley, the YESS program is ultimately “designed to have a higher college going culture in Compton and the SPA-6 area.” That area covers Lynwood, Compton, Paramount, North Long Beach, and Carson.

When the coordinators weren’t providing information about the program, they were providing encouraging words of support and advice to the students. Pamela Godfrey, one of the program’s coordinators, offered an impromptu inspirational pep talk to the foster students. “Take advantage of everything. Don’t feel bad because you’ve come from this kind of background,” she said. “Everybody comes from somewhere. But you have to put it in yourself to make your life better, and break the chain. Go to college. Get the education. Tell your friends that this is the place to be.”

Upward Bound: A 20th century school program that resonates today

By Anita Little, for Watt Way

Upward Bound, a USC partnership with South Los Angeles schools founded in 1977, has been making college a reality for low-income high school students and giving disadvantaged youth the skills they need to survive college. Upward Bound has always committed itself to the higher education of underprivileged students and since its founding has expanded from just three local high schools to nine high schools including Crenshaw High School, Dorsey High School, Manual Arts High School, Washington Preparatory and Jordan High School.

Over 90 percent of the graduating seniors in the program enrolled in college this year, according to Michael Santos, Upward Bound program manager. Upward Bound started with just 60 youths participating and now has more than 150 youths, with a budget of more than $1 million.

The partnership may never be more important than it is today.

Read more…

Photo courtesy of the University of Southern California