JEP program joins USC students with local youth

After joining forces with the Neighborhood Academic Initiative to mentor local high school students in writing and college preparedness, USC’s Joint Education Project is continuing to expand its programs.

Through JEP’s new programs, NAI students from Foshay High School are able to receive support and tutoring from a USC mentor. The Writing-Mentoring Program, launched in the spring, now includes 19 USC mentors who serve 44 NAI students.

NAI, a program designed to prepare low-income students for admission to USC, is a rigorous six-year commitment made available to students from USC’s neighboring Foshay and Manual Arts schools.

USC mentors are able to help students in the community while strengthening their own literary and writing skills. Mentors and students meet on USC’s campus each week to discuss literature and college admittance, said Alice Villasenor, JEP’s director of Public Humanities Initiatives. Villasenor said she believes the students enjoy the connection they make and often discuss personal and moral development as well.

“The Writing-Mentoring Program has been a great opportunity for students to connect with community students and connect to books,” Villasenor said. “It really is a two-way street, which is the essence of service learning.”

USC writing mentors are available to the high school students to help them reach their goal of attending USC or another university. The program includes a focus on personal statement writing and preparation for the SAT, and those who complete the program and meet USC’s admission requirements are awarded a full 4.5-year financial package.

Sara Kanematsu, a junior majoring in English who helped start the Writing-Mentoring program, said the high school students she works with are very motivated.

“I was able to see the students develop their own ideas and translate that into writing, which was a really cool experience to be part of,” Kanematsu said.

This semester, JEP launched its Open Classroom Project to allow NAI students to attend USC classes with their mentors. Through the Open Classroom Project, the USC mentor is not only an academic resource, but also serves as a liaison to the university, Kanematsu said.

“Since the age gap is so small, it’s a great opportunity to get to know the students personally while taking them through college and stuff they are doing in class,” Kanematsu said.

Foshay students grades 9-12 can attend a broad spectrum of classes, including geology, psychology and post-World War II foreign policy.

“It can be motivating for these kids to see the goal they are working towards and know they have extra support to get there,” Villasenor said.

Hannah Salter, a freshman majoring in neuroscience who volunteers with JEP, said she values the unique opportunities she has as a resident in the USC neighborhood.

“The kids love having a role model,” Salter said. “They love sharing their stories and telling us about their lives.”