USC's Neighborhood Academic Initiative helps students find pathway to college, director says

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Students in USC's Neighborhood Academic Initiative college prep program have a bright future ahead of them, thanks to the help of many. Their journey began seven years ago, and their hard was celebrated at a gala this week.

These are the sons and daughters of South L.A., raised in the shadow of USC. Most never imagined they'd be here - or any college campus. But others imagined it for them

"It's a family approach, but also, I say that students are captured for seven years. They know nothing else but the pathway to college," described Kim Thomas Barrios, associate vice president, USC Educational Partnership.

Barrios grew up here, too, and she's a USC grad herself.

Now, she directs the program that pulls young people from her old neighborhood and shows them the way.

"And we would hear things like, 'That's the University of Spoiled Children.' I'm not a spoiled child. All of my friends at USC, well most of my friends at USC, were on financial aid packages," Barrios said.

Barrios had people show her the way, too. Her mother taught early reading to kids in their neighborhood. Her father spent his career as an educator at Jefferson High and Cal State L.A., among others.

"Those were exciting years. Young people then were very outspoken and articulate. There was an incentive for them to understand their past. You didn't have to push," said Robert Thomas, Barrios' father.

But Barrios learned early that being an educator required more than dedication. It took courage.

"There was a guy who shot into a crowd of students at a middle school where he was assistant principal, and unfortunately the young man perished. But I remember my dad just running straight into the middle of it," she described. "Nope. Those were my kids."

Through it all, her parents taught her the power of perseverance, and she passes it on. And whatever school they choose, NAI is there, offering support until a diploma is in their hand.

"If you desire, as an educator, you're not just imparting, you know, academics, but you're engaging with them. And how could you not engage all the way?" Barrios said.
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