The gap between low-income and high-achieving can be closed with just a little thought and care on behalf of a successful program. The relationship between Foshay Learning Center and USC is one that other universities should seek to emulate. Foshay sent more students to USC this fall than any other public or private high school in the nation, a testament to the school’s rigorous academic standards. Students enter the program as sixth graders and must maintain at least a C average. Moreover, the program requires parental involvement — families must commit to attending workshops after school on topics like planning for college. Students also have to attend summer school each summer, and classes on Saturdays for half of the year. While many graduates of Foshay’s program attend USC, others go on to prestigious Ivy Leagues like Harvard.
USC initially began its relationship with Foshay as a partnership between the learning center and USC’s schools of Education and Social Work. Its aims were to provide a prestigious education combined with reduced-cost or cost-free health care, meals and educational supplies to strengthen the community’s future.
Perhaps most noteworthy is that USC does not lower admissions standards to favor Foshay graduates; rather, the University commits to helping the Foshay students raise themselves up. With 93 percent of Foshay students coming from low-income families, and an 80 percent Latino and about 20 percent black student demographic make-up, this program helps Foshay students overcome educational attainment barriers. For an urban school like Foshay, students may have lower access to resources they need to succeed.
Thus, the partnership between USC and Foshay is mutually beneficial, as it allows USC more access to high achieving students, and allows Foshay students greater access to a college preparatory curriculum. Such relationships between schools in an urban area and a local university help students with a lower socioeconomic status overcome educational opportunity barriers, while strengthening ties within the community.
The median income of the University Park region, where both Foshay and USC are located, is $18,533 — low for the city and county of Los Angeles. Additionally, the crime rate of 231.5 crimes per 10,000 people is higher than the average of other regions surrounding University Park. Foshay’s location in an urban setting, in conjunction with lower median income and higher crime rates than other nearby regions, puts students at an increased risk for lower educational attainment.
Various social justice and equity issues, such as poverty, drug use and violence, appear frequently in urban classrooms because the term urban is associated with students from nondominant racial, ethnic, linguistic and economic backgrounds. This negative association between society’s issues and urban students cause educators to view these students as deficient, which potentially allows for less educational opportunity, and further impacts a student’s educational attainment.
While these issues do appear in all schools, no matter the wealth of the students’ families, poverty is one of the biggest factors in contributing to a student’s success in education. Mathematics classes in high-poverty high schools are twice as likely to be taught by a teacher with credentials in a subject other than mathematics than at a low-poverty school. Teachers in high-poverty schools also more often report having to work with outdated textbooks technology, and inadequate science equipment. Moreover, the amount and variety of college-preparatory or Advanced Placement course offerings are significantly lower in schools with students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Thus, conditions in high-poverty schools too often render them sites of developmental risk rather than places of competent assets that would enhance student developmental outcomes.
The transition to college requires more than just academic preparation, but urban youth face motivational barriers and bleak schooling circumstances that hinder their academic performance. In school systems with inadequate resources, the school’s potential to have a direct impact on students’ successful transition to college is disrupted.
Thus, the unique opportunity that Foshay has to partner with USC helps to ensure that its students will succeed. This program helps change the “question from ‘Am I going to college? Can I go to college? to ‘Which college am I going to?’” Partnerships that involve organizations such as USC which are committed to maintaining a strong and visible presence at a school like Foshay can help establish stable relationships with students despite fluctuations in public funding. These unique relationships between students, Foshay and USC are further strengthened through on-campus events that allow students to connect to the University. Additionally, the partnership between Foshay and USC allows both schools to further their understanding of the challenges faced by urban youth, which will only help the program to continue to succeed.
Julia Lawler is a senior majoring in history and social science education. Her column, “Get Schooled,” runs Fridays.