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Promise Zone grant targets college preparation

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti announced an $11.2 million grant Nov. 9 that will offer free tutoring, college and career counseling, financial aid advice and other college readiness services to more than 2,000 middle school students in the L.A. Promise Zone and Promise Neighborhood.

The U.S. Department of Education grant will form the L.A. Promise Zone Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP), a partnership with the Youth Policy Institute and the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center. It will provide students at 16 schools with access to services from sixth grade through their first year of college.

“A child’s ZIP code should never be a barrier that puts the dream of a college education out of reach,” Garcetti said. “Every student in Los Angeles deserves the opportunities and resources they need to stay ahead in school, be prepared for higher learning and plan for a fulfilling, successful career. GEAR UP will make that possible for thousands of young people in our communities.”

Garcetti made the announcement at the Helen Bernstein High School Complex in Hollywood, alongside City Councilman David Ryu, Los Angeles school board Vice President Nick Melvoin, acting school Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, Youth Policy Institute President and CEO Dixon Slingerland and other community leaders.

Before the announcement, the mayor attended a mentor workshop with sixth graders and high school seniors, where he spoke with students about the importance of higher education. The GEAR UP launch coincided with the start of college application season and several high school seniors submitted their college applications on site with the support of their peers, educators and mentors.

“We know this can work because we’ve seen it work,” said Slingerland, whose Youth Policy Institute will provide college counseling services and other academic supports through the GEAR UP grant, as well as administer the grant overall. “Students in GEAR UP classes have already demonstrated dramatic gains in proficiency, with schools increasing by as much as 20 percentage points on standardized tests. And we know that the community schools model that includes GEAR UP works. When students look around their neighborhoods and face obstacles on the path to success, we’re here to level the playing field.”

Garcetti has made expanding educational opportunity, especially for the city’s most vulnerable young people, a top priority since taking office. Since 2013, Los Angeles has attracted federal investments of $311 million in grants for the Promise Zone area — with the funds reaching 47 schools, 50 community partners, and 165,000 residents with a total investment value that matches the other 21 Promise Zones in the nation combined.

The Los Angeles Promise Zone serves five culturally diverse Los Angeles neighborhoods: Hollywood, East Hollywood, Koreatown, Westlake, and Pico-Union. And last year, Los Angeles became the first and only city in America with two Promise Zones — after a second designation was awarded to cover a large swath of South L.A.

“Getting to college, let alone paying for it, isn’t easy — and if we are going to succeed as a city, we must allow these kids the tools to succeed as students,” said Ryu, who chairs the Health, Education and Neighborhood City Council Committee. “I am so proud of all our students, parents and teachers who work so hard and overcome such great challenges to reach post-secondary education. I want them to know, the city of Los Angeles recognizes those challenges, and is ready to invest in your future.”

“Dixon Slingerland and the entire team at Youth Policy Institute have proven that concentrated collaboration and innovation can lead to breakthroughs in any ZIP code,” said Melvoin, whose district includes the Hollywood area. “I’m honored to represent the Los Angeles Promise Zone on the school board and I’m eager to see the next generation of impactful partnership for our students and communities.”

“On behalf of the students and families of L.A. Unified, I want to thank Mayor Garcetti, Mr. Slingerland and the Youth Policy Institute for this generous GEAR UP grant,” Ekchian said. “Creating an ironclad pipeline from middle school to college helps ensure that all of our students are prepared for the rigors of college and are instilled with the desire to pursue a career and become productive members of the community.”

Also speaking at the announcement were students Elizabeth Peña,afirst-year student at UCLA and a graduate of Helen Bernstein High School;andEdith Zelada Davila, a sixth grader at Vaughn Next Century Learning Center and GEAR UP participant.

“My dream goal is to apply to Harvard or UCLA in order to become an engineer while having a dancing scholarship,” said Zelada, who had earlier spoken to Peña about her experience.

“When I first entered middle school, I was involved in a program that would help enhance my knowledge of college and helped prepare me for what my future would hold,” Peña said. “Having so many supportive people helped me maintain that same mindset I was taught at a young age and I continued to strive for college until I made my dream a reality.”

The Los Angeles Promise Zone has been a standout success at attracting federal resources to its communities. The GEAR UP grant is the 63rd federal grant to the Zone since 2013, and the seventh in 2017, for a total of $311 million—all going towards a place-based strategy focused on giving students and their families the resources they need to succeed. The total represents as much federal investment as the nation’s other 21 Promise Zones combined.

The following schools are participants in the grant: Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, Bert Corona Charter Middle School, Bert Corona Charter High School, San Fernando Institute of Applied Media (SFiAM), Discovery Charter High School, Sylmar Biotech Health Academy, Maclay Middle School Academy of Social Justice, Cesar Chavez Learning Academy- Social Justice Humanitas Academy, Cesar Chavez Learning Academy- Arts Theater Entertainment School (ArTES), Cesar Chavez Learning Academy- Academy of Scientific Exploration (ASE), Cesar Chavez Learning Academy- Teacher Prep Academy (TPA), Santa Monica Blvd. Community Charter, Joseph Le Conte Middle School, APEX Academy, Helen Bernstein High School and STEM Academy of Hollywood.

Other partners in the grant include UCLA, City College and Mission College, Loyola Marymount University, Cal State Northridge and Cal State Los Angeles, the Unusual Suspects theater company; Junior Achievement’s Finance Park of Southern California; and Princeton Review.

 

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