Growing up around South Central Los Angeles, Marco Solis always liked school. He was a smart kid, a low-key kid—a budding engineer whose parents, although they hadn’t been able to do so themselves, recognized the importance of sending their children to college.
And so his mother took the best first step, enrolling Solis and his sister, Michelle, at Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School.
She had good reason to: Solis’ neighborhood had some of the highest crime rates in Los Angeles, with high dropout rates and rising rates of gang violence.
A Smaller, Smarter School
Solis’s district school, had he chosen to attend, had an enrollment of 2,000. By contrast, Ánimo Pat Brown (APB) had just 400. Like all Green Dot schools, it was known for its college-driven curriculum, a focused and highly structured environment, and teachers trained to support students and student potential in deep and meaningful ways. So he went.
“My experience at APB was life-changing,” Solis recalls. “Teachers cared about me inside and outside of school. They held me to a high standard and helped me focus and create a plan for my life. And college wasn’t an option; it was expected.
“I remember my science teacher, Mr. [Andrew] Osterhaus, would stay late, helping us build our robots. Then he’d be back again first thing in the morning. Other teachers were the same way. When the students saw how important education was to them, they began to care more, too.”
Osterhaus remembers Solis as a great student. “Marco always worked hard and never gave up,” he says. “That year, a student from our class was killed over Thanksgiving break, and Marco was a rock for many of us.” In 2011, Solis graduated from APB.
Building New Opportunities at Home
Four years later, in the spring of 2015, the Green Dot alumnus will graduate again—this time with a degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. (Michelle will be getting her own degree in sociology from Cal State Long Beach.) During his summers, the low-key student from Watts has been helping other teens get their college plans in line.
After graduation, Solis plans to work for an engineering firm, ideally near Los Angeles so he can continue to contribute to his home community. “A lot of kids don’t think there’s anybody out there who cares about them,” Solis says. “But Green Dot teachers were always there for me. They cared about my education, and they cared about me as a person. The best thing they ever did was teach me to believe in my own potential.”