“Every day that we come to school, the adults on campus remind us that education is important, and that it will provide us with a better future,” recalled Jesse Alejo, eighth grader at Ánimo Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School (AEO). The teachers, staff, and principal at AEO have been steadfast in creating a rigorous, college-going culture that equips students with the knowledge and resources necessary to pursue higher education.
To truly prepare students for college, AEO has partnered with East Los Angeles College (ELAC) to offer its middle school students college courses. Through this partnership, a professor at ELAC teaches a college course at AEO each semester. The collaboration provides students with the opportunity to learn new skills and earn credits that are transferable at both California State Universities and University of California (UC) campuses. “I know my school is preparing us for college in our day to day classes, but seeing them bring in a college level class showed me how much they care about my future,” said Alejo, “and how I can take advantage of opportunities to get ready for college, now.”
It’s Never Too Early
Cynthia Ybarra at the 2017 ODLH Graduation
As the former principal of nearby Oscar De La Hoya Ánimo Charter High School (ODLH), AEO Principal Cynthia Ybarra often encountered students who only started thinking about college once they arrived at a Green Dot high school. Many of the students from the communities that Green Dot serves will be the first in their family to attend college. For students coming from families with no prior college history, envisioning themselves at college and actually navigating through the system can be extremely difficult.
When Ybarra became the principal of AEO, she wanted to ensure that even the youngest students had viable pathways to college. “When we confirmed that our middle school students were eligible for college courses, Ms.Ybarra and I reached out to ELAC, who has similar partnerships with some of our Green Dot high schools,” said Dora Archila, counselor at AEO.
During the fall, through the efforts of Ybarra and Archila, AEO offered its first college course: Introduction to Engineering. Through this course, students are introduced to mechanical engineering through lecture and hand-on projects that apply lessons and concepts to their everyday lives. Their goal was to create a series of courses that would help pave a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) pathway, teaching students the advanced skills and knowledge necessary for college and careers in the 21st Century workplace.
For Alejo, Introduction to Engineering was the perfect opportunity: “I took this class because I want to become an engineer and figured it would be a good way to better prepare for my future.”
Though not every student would have an interest in pursuing a career path in STEM, AEO staff knew these courses would help ease entry to college for students by furthering their soft skills and exposing them to a higher ed learning environment. “I knew this would be a great opportunity to challenge myself and gain college credit. But when we started learning more about STEM and the kinds of jobs you can do, it opened up my eyes to new options,” said Brenda Talajara, seventh grader at AEO. Now that they’ve completed Introduction to Engineering, Alejo and Talajara will spend this semester in the Manufacturing and Industrial Technology course taught by an ELAC professor.
Jesse Alejo, eighth grader at AEO
Opportunities For a Better Future
As an alumnus of Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School and current counselor at AEO, Archila supports students in their academic, social, and career development. She attributes much of her success to the teachers and counselors at Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School , who supported her on her own road to college: “On my first day at Ánimo Inglewood, I remember at some point during every class, every single teacher spoke to us about college. Before then, I had never really thought about college.” Growing up, she knew education was important, but her prior schools didn’t equip her with the resources or knowledge to fully envision such a future. “Because of the impact my counselor had on me, I knew I wanted to work in education and show students that regardless of where you come from, college is attainable.”
Brenda Talajara, Dora Archila, Jesse Alejo, & Jose Ramirez
The pressure of being first-generation college students alongside the difficulty of adjusting to the academic and social challenges of college life can be overwhelming. By exposing students and their families to the rigors of college early, Green Dot is revisioning middle schools as the launchpads to college. “Ánimo Ellen Ochoa is getting us ready for college by pushing us, giving us work that challenges us, and offering us opportunities that broaden our minds,” said Jose Ramirez, eighth grader at AEO. “It’s great because when we are in college we won’t be afraid and we won’t quit, because we’re prepared for it.”