Photo by chickenscrawl via Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo by chickenscrawl via Flickr/Creative Commons

A community program sponsored by the University of Southern California to ensure kids are ready for college will begin this year at Murchinson Elementary School in the Ramona Gardens neighborhood of Boyle Heights. The Neighborhood Academic Initiative began over twenty years ago as a way for low-income students to attend USC, tuition free.

Under the program guidelines, students must commit to a seven-year plan of after school tutoring, coupled with Saturday morning classes. Once in high school, students must attend an additional weekday morning class at USC and their parents must begin attending Saturday seminars as well.

Students who remain in the program in good standing from sixth grade until their high school graduation, gain a full-scholarship to USC, provided they meet admission requirements.

Although the scholarship only applies for admission to USC, Neighborhood Academic Initiative officials say the program motivates and readies students to attend other four-year universities.

The program numbers are impressive. Since its first graduating class in 1997, 745 students have completed the program with 83 percent enrolling as freshman at four-year universities, and 35 percent enrolling at USC.

About five years ago, program officials began to look for new locations and schools. Ramona Gardens is not uncommon to USC, as their 79-acre Health Sciences Campus is located nearby. The program is also recruiting students at El Sereno Middle School.

Murchinson Elementary School Principal Margarita Gutierrez is thrilled the USC program is coming to her school. “Sometimes our parents are working parents, they are busy or sometimes they limit themselves with goals and what they think they can achieve. This program is opening those doors that they normally would not have,” said Gutierrez.

Murchinson Elementary primarily serves the historically underrepresented Ramona Gardens housing complex, the largest and oldest housing project in Los Angeles County. Ramona Gardens is now under the management of the Housing Authority of the City Los Angeles (HACLA).

Gutierrez acknowledges her school faces many challenges servicing Ramona Gardens residents and their children. Issues such as academic scores, attendance and discipline problems are a constant, according to Gutierrez.

“A program like this helps us in our work because it guides the families to start thinking about at the future for them and their kids,” added Gutierrez.c

The application period for the eastside program is currently underway with a scheduled start date of January 25, 2014.

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