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High school throws a party to help kids apply to college



Two 12th graders, Ana Castro (left) and Natalie Valdovinos, work on their college applications at an after-school applications party organized by their public school, the UCLA Community School in LA's Koreatown.
Two 12th graders, Ana Castro (left) and Natalie Valdovinos, work on their college applications at an after-school applications party organized by their public school, the UCLA Community School in LA's Koreatown.
Courtesy UCLA Community School

Application season for universities is in full swing with submission deadlines for California State and University of California campuses scheduled at the end of November.

For students who will be the first in their families to apply to college, the process can be confusing and discouraging unless they get help.

On Friday, dozens of 12th graders at the UCLA Community School, a public school in LA’s Koreatown, got that help. With teachers and staff ready to assist, the students started on their college applications at an after-school party with balloons, soft drinks, pizza and rows of laptops.

“We’re celebrating the start of their new journey,” said math teacher Maria Nakis, one of the event organizers.

“They’ve worked hard for the last three–plus years. For them to really begin to see the finish line, to see the payoff for all the work they’ve put in the last couple of years, it’s exciting.”

The school is a 1,000-student, K-12 campus under the L.A. Unified School District but with a modified teachers contract and a close working relationship with UCLA scholars.

The university pays for three staff on campus which lowers the student to counselor ratio to about one counselor for every 45 high school students. Students must check in with counselors periodically.

“We have this idea that providing the safety net of support for our students is really going to create an atmosphere in which they can then take off from this point,” Nakis said.

Many students are the first in their families to apply to college. The school makes sure, she said, that no student would reach their last year at the school without knowing what the graduation requirements are or what’s needed to get into college.

Nearly all of the graduating seniors last year, she said, went on to college.

People working with students on college admission at other schools said this kind of communication and clarity is what’s missing at some of the school district’s large comprehensive high schools.

“It sounds like a really amazing opportunity for students who are having this space available, time available, and people available,” said Daniela Hernandez, with the non-profit group InnerCity Struggle, about the UCLA Community School college party.

She’s helping 25 seniors at Roosevelt, Lincoln, Wilson, Torres, and Mendez high schools to fill out their college applications and complete all the related material.

She said she meets many students who reach their senior year not knowing what’s required to graduate, let alone what they need to do to get into college.

The schools she’s working with, she said, should do more to create a college-going environment. What it takes is "having time, space, people, and knowledge of information for students to know what’s expected of them.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Maria Nakis's last name. KPCC regrets the error.