Nightingale Students On the Road to USC


Students at Nightingale Middle School in Cypress Park could get a full-ride scholarship to the University of Southern California if they successfully complete a 7-year program aimed at getting them to college. The program includes mandatory Saturday classes for both students and parents.

It’s part of USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) expansion to East/Northeast Los Angeles this school year through a new partnership with Lincoln and Wilson High Schools as well as Nightingale.

Lea este artículo en Español: Estudiantes de Nightingale Podrían Estudiar en USC Gratuitamente

The goal is to create a college-going culture for the school’s predominately Latino students, many who would be the first in their families to attend college. It requires sustained commitment from students and parents must also agree to complete the part of the program directed at them. The benefits and payoff, however, could be life changing.

For many students and parents, the high cost to attend college or a university can be intimidating, and with good reason. The estimated cost to attend USC this year is about $67,212, an amount unfathomable to many, such as the 92% of students classified in Nightingale’s School Accountability Report Card Report as “socioeconomically disadvantaged.” Add in the fact that many of the students are immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants, English Learners, living in an area with a long history of crime and gang violence, and it’s not hard to understand why the idea of attending a top-notch private university like USC could seem out of reach.

NAL Students on the last day of their Jaime Escalante Algebra course at Nightingale Middle School in July 2016. (Courtesy of LAUSD)

NAL Students on the last day of their Jaime Escalante Algebra course at Nightingale Middle School in July 2016. (Courtesy of LAUSD)

But through NAI, students could receive financial assistance amounting to $302,454 over 4.5 years, and more importantly, the academic tools they’ll need to get in and compete once there.

The academic assistance alone can make a big difference for Latino students in light of a number of recent studies which found that many inner-city students are unable to keep up academically with their peers in college and require remedial classes to get them through.

At Nightingale, for example, Latino students had the lowest overall proficiency in English Language skills, 45% compared 72% among Asian students, according to the school report card.

Through NAI, students at partnership schools will receive after school tutoring to help them achieve parity with students in more affluent areas of the state, says Kim Thomas-Barrios, executive director for the USC Educational Partnerships.

Rafael Gaeta, Nightingale’s principal, hopes the program will also keep enrollment at Nightingale from continuing to decline. He told EGP it’s one of the reasons he decided to reach out to USC.

“We’ve been losing a lot of enrollment to Charters and needed to be innovative in bringing in more kids,” Gaeta said. “At first I was denied, but I kept in contact with them and now it’s happened,” he said referring to the school’s partnership with NAI.

Currently, NAI serves about 1,000 students in 6th-12th grade and a little over 300 students in college, according to Thomas-Barrios.

“We don’t want students only to get into college,” but to also support students “throughout college so they don’t fall through the cracks,” Thomas-Barrios said.

The program is composed of three sections, the USC Pre-College Enrichment Academy, the Family Development Institute and the Retention Program, explains Thomas-Barrios.

The 7-year, Pre-College section requires participants to attend classes outside their regular Monday through Friday curriculum schedule. Held on 21 Saturdays during the academic year, each class lasts about five hours. Parents are required to attend nine, four-hour Saturday sessions a year.

Once students reach high school they can either continue in the program or drop out. If they elect to stay in, from 9th through 12th grade their first and second period classes will be on the USC campus, with the remainder of the day at their particular high school.

“They travel to the USC campus in the morning to dispel the notion that they do not belong in college, because they do,” explains Thomas-Barrios about why students don’t just stay at their local school.

For the parents, the Family Development Institute gives them a space to learn about the process of getting their children into college and their corresponding needs, in both English and Spanish.

“The fact that they can get a free ride to one of the most prestigious schools in the country is amazing because the cost of college is getting very expensive for the parents in our community,” Gaeta told EGP. Students who complete the program are not required to attend USC, but the scholarship is not transferable to another university.


NAL Students on a field trip at the Getty Center in 2016. (Courtesy of LAUSD)

It needs to be pointed out, however, that participation alone does not guarantee admission to USC. Students must also meet certain academic and financial benchmarks, but according to Thomas-Barrios, the program’s staff is well equipped to guide them toward meeting USC’s competitive standards. Once accepted, students must also apply to FAFSA to prove they are still low-income.

Response to the program exceeded the expectations of Nightingale staff, Gaeta said, noting that applications were gone as soon as they became available.

To qualify, students must reside near Nightingale and move on to Lincoln or Wilson High with a minimum of a C+ grade point average.

According to Gaeta, the school is also working on creating a college-going environment that goes beyond NAI, such as adding new electives to capture the attention of students who might begin to get distracted.

“We need to reach those children, stop being status quo and think outside the box,” Gaeta said.

Saturday classes for the 34 sixth graders selected at Nightingale for this year will begin September 17th at the USC Health Science Campus in Lincoln Heights.


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