This past spring, USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative celebrated the graduation of 57 students — its largest graduating class since 1997, according to NAI Executive Director Kim Thomas-Barrios.
NAI, an academic enrichment program geared toward students grades 6 through 12, provides a college preparatory setting for those who excel in the classroom.
“We’re always happy with milestones,” Thomas-Barrios said. “We now have over 700 graduates of our program, which is a big number for us.”
Currently working with Muir Middle School and the Foshay Learning Center, the NAI plans to expand to two more schools in the Boyle Heights area this coming September, in conjunction with USC’s Health Sciences Campus.
“We will double the numbers that the NAI program will work with,” Thomas-Barrios said.
With more than 700 students currently participating, the NAI will likely include 1,400 students within the next seven years.
Students typically begin the program in the sixth grade and attend classes on USC’s campus before and after their regular school hours. Students also attend the academy for four hours on Saturdays.
“They make sure that you’re in the college environment,” said Sarady Merghani, a rising junior at Foshay. “Even though I want to give up sometimes because it’s really hard, I think about how I can’t give up now.”
During the summer, students can retake math or English courses for credit or choose one of 13 elective-style classes, which include filmmaking, guitar, art and more — many taught by USC professors.
“We’ll have guitar and art,” Thomas-Barrios said. “The enrichment classes can widen their scope of understanding so that they’re learning as well as doing.”
Ninety-nine percent of students who have finished the program have gone on to college. If accepted to USC, NAI students receive a full scholarship.
Antonio Hernandez, a Foshay rising sophomore, said the program offers the means to pursue higher education.
“It gives us a lot of opportunity for those students who don’t have economic things to support them through their journeys to college,” Hernandez said.
Funding for the program comes from a multitude of resources, including foundations, individual donors and USC itself.
Students spend grades 6 through 12 with one another, developing close bonds.
“I think [NAI has] definitely changed us,” rising Foshay junior Maurissa Brown said. “I feel that if I wasn’t in the academy, I would have been swept up into that madness and peer pressure.”
Sylvia Lopez, a rising junior at Foshay, agrees.
“[NAI] doesn’t let you hang out with the wrong people,” Lopez said. “We see each other as brothers and sisters — we’re always there for each other. It’s like a second family.”