Every time a group of young elementary school children stroll down Trousdale Parkway admiring what most Trojans take for granted, USC students are reminded of the university’s dedication to helping neighborhood children earn a college degree.
It was not until after the riots of 1992, however, that USC began to establish programs with local schools, said Tammara Anderson, executive director of the Joint Educational Project.
“[Former] President [Steven B.] Sample wanted to re-evaluate how USC works with the community and Sample believed we should connect with a few local schools,” Anderson said.
What began as a network of five local schools soon transformed into the USC Family of Schools that adopts thousands of neighborhood children from 15 schools around the University Park Campus and Health Sciences Campus into the Trojan Family. The goal of the program is to provide neighborhood students the resources they need to reach the college of their dreams, Anderson said.
“USC pushed me to explore and expand my academic boundaries,” said Jesus Moran, a graduate of Manuel Arts High School who will attend Harvard University next year to pursue a degree in political science. “USC students, JEP mentors and [Neighborhood Academic Initiative] alumni visited my school and pushed me to become a better student by showing me that going to a great college was possible.”
The Neighborhood Academic Initiative is a program within the USC Family of Schools that enrolls sixth-grade students into a six-year college preparation course that features daily morning classes at USC and Saturday schools.
Though Moran said the program is rigorous and many students drop, most students who stay on the NAI track get into a four-year college and receive a full-tuition scholarship.
“There are many requirements,” Moran said. “You have to maintain a 2.5 GPA, have a 92 percent attendance rate on Saturdays and your parents have to attend meetings too, but it is feasible and possible.”
Kim Barrios, executive director of NAI, said 100 percent of the students who currently complete the NAI program get into college, 35 percent earning acceptance to USC.
“It’s about changing the question from ‘Am I going to college?’ to ‘Where am I going to college?’” Barrios said. “Before this program, few students who went to high school near the USC neighborhood got accepted into college and fewer graduated.”
Barrios said all students attending a school in the USC Family of Schools are eligible to participate in the NAI program. Students who begin the NAI program but transfer out of a USC Family School lose their NAI eligibility.
Jasmine Torres, a sophomore majoring in sociology, lost her NAI eligibility when she moved schools but still found a way to USC.
“NAI is a terrific program but not everyone is able to participate,” Torres said. “There are so many kids that pass by USC or come to campus to play basketball or soccer but they don’t believe that they could ever be a student here.”
Barrios said the most important benefit students gain from the USC Family of Schools programs is the interaction with USC students.
“My son went to Foshay Learning Center and when he was in the second grade he was in the USC ReadersPlus program,” Barrios said. “I picked him up one day and he said ‘Mom! Mom! There’s my buddy.’ All I saw was a big giant kid that had to be a football player when my son said ‘Him! Him! He’s my reading buddy!’”
Barrios said a core mission of the USC Family of Schools is to get elementary, middle and high school students excited to work with USC students.
“It’s about having someone who cares for them, another adult who genuinely wants them to succeed,” Barrios said.