USC college prep program sends students in East LA communities to college for first time

For the first time, high school graduates in El Sereno and Lincoln Heights who are part of USC's college prep program will be going on to attend a university.
EL SERENO, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- For the first time, high school graduates in El Sereno and Lincoln Heights who are a part of the University of Southern California's college prep program called the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, or NAI, will be going on to attend a university.

"Thank you to like, the NAI program, my family, and everyone that supported me along the way. I wouldn't be here without them," said Nelson Henriquez, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School and a participant of the program.

The USC initiative has been around for about 30 years, mostly helping kids in South Los Angeles, until it was extended in 2013.

"For the most part, our families come from a low-income area and need to have the support. And so that's what we do," said Kim Thomas-Barrios, associate senior vice president of USC Educational Partnerships.

NAI is a seven-year program, which starts in sixth grade, which helps students who want to go to college succeed through extra hours of studying and school on Saturdays.

Now, the first eastside cohort of the program, which started in 2013, is getting ready to go to college.

Henriquez earned a full scholarship, which is what a student gets if they get accepted to and choose to go to USC.

"It's just a huge relief for my family because it's a lot of money to go to school now," said Henriquez. "It's just a big relief for them knowing that like I can go to school and not having to pay anything."

Nelson's parents immigrated from El Salvador in hopes of a better future and said they're grateful for the program that helped their son attend USC.

"I would have never imagined that ... it's a very prestigious university and very expensive," said Irma Henriquez, Nelson's mother. "But imagine now, being able to go and with a full ride."

Overall, 96 students from the program are heading to college. 41 students are from the eastside communities and 53 are from South L.A., according to USC.

"I'm going to be majoring in biological sciences," Henriquez said. "And hopefully I can go into medicine and public health."

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