Neighborhood students who dream of one day entering the Trojan family now have a little more support.
The USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a program aimed at helping neighborhood students continue on to college, recently received a $250,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, an organization that awards money to non-profits in the fields of health, the environment, community development, arts and culture, education and human services.
NAI is a six-year program that starts during middle school. The program works with students to assure placement at colleges or universities.
The Kresge Foundation asked NAI to apply for the grant, according to NAI director Kim Thomas-Barrios. She said this is a reflection of the effectiveness of the NAI program.
“Having Kresge just ask to apply is monumental,” Thomas-Barrios said. “Kresge awarded us the fund and had a firm belief in our program; they were really impressed with our students.”
Thomas-Barrios said NAI plans to use the grant money to help fund a change to the program.
Because Foshay High School is changing its schedule from year-round to traditional, the students from Manual Arts High School and Foshay will not be taking NAI classes together for the first time in 20 years. This requires more funding, and the grant money will be used to cover these funds.
“We want to use this funding so that we can continue to provide the same level of services that we have had every year,” Thomas-Barrios said.
NAI students take some of their classes on the USC campus, taught by teachers from their high school. This gives them a chance to experience learning in a college environment and, hopefully, helps grow enthusiasm about going to college.
“We transport an entire population of high school students to the university for part of the day so that they are made to feel comfortable with the knowledge for admittance and persistence at a major university,” Thomas-Barrios said.
Though the NAI program is aimed at getting students into college, it has a particular focus on USC. If a student is admitted to USC after graduating from NAI, the student receives a full financial aid package from the university.
“It helped me get prepared for the whole switch from high school to college,” said Amarilis Bolanos, a USC sophomore who graduated from NAI in 2008. “I felt more prepared for my classes when I got to college.”
Luis Maldonado, USC freshman and NAI graduate, said NAI kept him motivated to do well in high school.
“I was impacted by not only the program but the people in the program; it gives students the opportunity to establish friendship and gave us an incentive to go to college,” he said. “It was a good program because it challenges us … The classes were held at USC and it gave us the feeling of a college environment.”
Maldonado emphasized the significance NAI has on the surrounding community.
“It helps kids find their paths, and that is important especially in low economic communities,” he said.