Southland College Helps Motivated Teens Succeed

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During the summer months, many colleges and universities reach out to middle and high school students who may be arriving late onto the path toward college. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has this story about one Southland private college that's pushing motivated high school girls beyond their expectations.

[Wind section playing "Pomp and Circumstance"]

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: At Lynwood High School's graduation a few weeks ago, principal Jose Urias congratulated the outgoing seniors.

Jose Urias: Did you know that today you will be one of the classes with the most students accepted to a four year college, in recent Lynwood High School history?

Guzman-Lopez: In the front row sat four young women dressed in the white caps and gowns of Lynwood High's top 20 scholars. Satin sky blue stoles attested to their academic honors.

Leslie Mendoza: This one is National Honor Society, MESA, CSF. And another honors society.

Guzman-Lopez: Eighteen year old Leslie Mendoza adjusted friend Melissa Mesinas' gown. They're both headed to Claremont's Scripps College in the fall. Friends Celida Ramirez and Estefany Reyes will fly to Massachusetts in a few months to begin studies at two other private liberal arts heavyweights: Wellesley and Williams. The four have been best friends since the ninth grade. Inseparable through...

Girls: Everything! (several giggle) Shopping. School. Cooking.

Guzman-Lopez: All four said they found their academic footing two years ago at the Scripps College Academy. It's an all expenses paid, two-week residential program at the private women's college.

The academy accepts about three dozen students a year for an intensive preview of coming attractions, including humanities lectures by Scripps professors, writing workshops, and college entrance seminars. Leslie Mendoza said the workshops improved her high school English grades.

Mendoza: They develop your writing skills one on one with the professors. So we had like two or three revisions of an essay that we had, and you kinda learn a little bit more how to do the format.

Guzman-Lopez: Scripps offers homework help, college application tips, and insight into the rigors and rewards of college life during monthly follow-up sessions. Lynwood High art history teacher Richard Harsh knows the four graduates well. He praised the Scripps College program for offering what many parents in working class, heavily immigrant Lynwood cannot.

Richard Harsh: They don't have the parental backup that a lot of us more privileged people have had. When little Maria goes to her mother and says help me with English, well mom doesn't even speak English. Dad's either not there or if she says help me with algebra, my God, she's lucky if her dad understands fractions.

Guzman-Lopez: Scripps College administrators say the program aims to focus students' minds on college, any college. Participants do hear plenty about the advantages of smaller, liberal arts schools. That emphasis helped Celida Ramirez choose Wellesley College.

Celida Ramirez: I would have went to Cal State Long Beach, to be quite honest. It was the closest thing to home and I could have probably just carpooled there with someone. I never thought I'd be leaving to cross the country, I guess.

Guzman-Lopez: Ramirez received a full scholarship from Wellesley. Williams College offered a similar package to Estefany Reyes. Their other two friends scored grants and scholarships to Scripps.

Professor Nancy Neiman-Aurebach: Certain people in our society lack privilege. Agreed? Everybody know what privilege is?

Guzman-Lopez: Last week, Scripps College politics professor Nancy Neiman-Aurebach broke down the power dynamics of race and gender to the 34 mostly black and Latina 15 year olds enrolled in this year's program. These young women, she said, need to hear about that.

Neiman-Aurebach: As much as things have improved and changed over time, that we still live in a patriarchal society, that we still live in a society where gender norms are constructed. It affects them in their everyday lives.

Guzman-Lopez: Fifteen year old Daysha Smith, the daughter of an accountant and a trucking business owner, said she'd never participated in such a provocative classroom discussion. She wants to major in theater at UCLA, UC Berkeley, or Howard University. Her parents share her goal, she said, but many classmates at her South L.A. charter high school don't.

Daysha Smith: Sometimes other people from the outside, put me down, "Oh, you're never going to make it because I've never made it." Or that you won't be able to succeed because it's hard, but I think that I will.

Guzman-Lopez: The Scripps College Academy program aims to convince these young women to believe in, and act upon, their potential. It's in keeping with the school's motto. Translated from the Latin it means: "Here begins a new life."