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Exposition Park program guides students to colleges

May 25, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
They may be from a tough neighborhood but that's not stopping dozens of local students from graduating from high school and going on to USC, Harvard and other colleges. The Neighborhood Academic Initiative works and introduces us to the extraordinary teens who are a part of it.

Just before 8 a.m and the school day for Manual Arts Senior High School and James A. Foshay Learning Center students begins at the University of Southern California. The 54 seniors have been attending classes here since the 6th grade.

They are part of the Neighborhood Academic Initiative. It's a program that's been around for more than a decade. It brings in students from the surrounding neighborhood of USC and introduces them to the university.

"I've been a Trojan since 6th grade," said student Jazmin Navarro.

Jazmin is one of the seniors graduating from the program. She started in middle school when classes were held on Saturdays. She's heading to USC in the fall. She admits walking on campus for the first time was a bit scary.

"I wasn't sure how I would situate myself in this campus because of the different ethnicities, but later on I felt a little comfortable after I got more experience and opportunities to meet these people in different ways," said Jazmin.

So who gets to go? You don't have to be a straight-"A" student, but you do have to have a strong commitment.

"They have to have at least a 'C' average, and a desire to go to college," said Kim Thomas Barrios. "It's that simple."

Navarro's father Jose says he doesn't see giving up Saturdays to bring his daughter to school here as a sacrifice.

"This program has taught me that everything is possible if you work at it," said Navarro. "It's all there, it's just a matter of you taking commitment and saying 'I want it, I'm going to fight for it' and it's going to happen."

All 54 seniors are heading to a university, 26 of them to USC. One young man is heading to Harvard and his brother to West Point.

On the marquis at Manual Arts High it says "It can be done." These students are proof of that.

Of the 54 Graduates from the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, 26 will be attending USC on a full tuition scholarship.

One student who was accepted at Harvard will also go with a full scholarship as the school policy and the student who was appointed to West Point USMC. That student will be paid for his military service starting next fall.

The Neighborhood Academic Initiative Administration helped get the other students scholarships, grants and loans to attend the schools of their choices. This year it includes Morehouse College and several UC campuses.


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