Providing Educational Access and Opportunity for College Success
The recent news of fraudulent college admissions is disheartening. Students are overcoming many obstacles to get to college while others are simply able to pay their way though. It has brought to the foreground a national discussion about the disparity between privileged individuals and those left without opportunity. After-school programs such as Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) make a huge impact on kids’ access to quality education. At HOLA, our College Access and Success programs have for years been addressing the needs of the surrounding community by empowering students and alumni to define their own vision of success and forge their own pathways. Students and alumni are encouraged to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy skills. Last June, 100% of HOLA’s Class of 2018 who completed the high school program graduated and 99% enrolled in college. By providing individualized and intensive support, HOLA has maintained a 97% college persistence rate among its scholarship recipients for the 2017-2018 academic year.
The Need for Equitable Education
“Education is a catalytic agent for improving not only a child’s future, but a whole neighborhood.” - LA Promise Zone
HOLA’s overarching goal is to become the most impactful community center it can be, ensuring that every student growing up in and around this neighborhood has equitable opportunities to be successful. HOLA serves youth, ages 6-24, living in and around the Rampart District and Westlake area. The US Zip Code Census highlights the area’s high crime rates, poor quality of academic resources, low educational attainment and countless of other pervasive problems related to its high poverty rate and dense population. The median household income is just above the federal poverty threshold and this neighborhood is the second highest densely populated area in Los Angeles County. These elements potentially cause youth to face post-traumatic stress disorders, obesity, learning disabilities, gang involvement, substance abuse and hopelessness, all of which threaten their academic success and their ability to overcome poverty. HOLA provides these youth with a myriad of programs and services, fostering hope and supporting pathways into college matriculation and career attainment. As part of its work supporting the LA Promise Zone, HOLA wishes to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in Los Angeles. If we cannot approach the youth in our local communities with holistic approaches that acknowledge their unique dynamic life situations, students will exhaustively struggle against larger obstacles that will hinder their educational success.
Approaching Accessibility with Supportive Services
With increased accessibility to academic and enrichment programs, as well as counseling and support services, HOLA anticipates seeing continued improvements, growth and progress among students as their environment becomes more conducive to learning and staff has the space they need to ensure each student receives the quality and quantity of support necessary to succeed. HOLA holds high academic expectations from our students because we know that they are capable of great things. If you treat students like they are capable of bringing dedicated attention and commitment to their after-school activities, in most cases, they will meet or exceed your expectations. In 2015, Antar Tichavakunda, from the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California (USC), conducted a mixed-methods study on the efficacy of HOLA’s College Access programming. In “Fostering College Readiness: An Ethnography of a Latina/o Afterschool Program” (Education and Urban Society, August 2017), Tichavakunda found that HOLA cultivated positive noncognitive factors that bolstered students’ academic and college readiness and supported them on their paths to college attainment - a critical part of HOLA’s mission is to provide a nurturing environment in which students are empowered to reach their potential, pursue their education and strengthen their communities.
“When the content and tools of instruction does not honor students’ cultural background, students miss the opportunity to become active participants in their learning.” (Richards et al, 2006)
HOLA’s College Success Director Katherine Kouot strives to build student development in the college-to-career pipeline with a culturally responsive instructional design, a critical tool implemented to engage and build students’ agency in their personal and professional lives. She truly believes that college is a transformative experience that offers students the opportunity to discover their passions, strengths, assets, and, most importantly, their individual journey towards life success. With a background in education and college access, Director Kouot lends her experience to support students in making the successful transition from high school to college and then from college to career and life success. Expanding on the discussion of culturally responsive instructional design, she will present “Addressing Biases and Barriers: How to Encourage Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Scholarship Programs” on Tuesday, May 21 at the California Community Foundation for a NSPA Regional Meeting.
A Brighter Future
HOLA is able to engage more comprehensively with students, helping to ensure that each student has every opportunity to pursue their education and find a pathway out of poverty. As a result, HOLA has seen some outstanding developments in academic performance. By the end of the last academic year, 90% of HOLA’s youngest students had either improved or maintained their performance at or above grade level in core subjects, and 79% of students enrolled in HOLA’s middle school education program increased their grades or maintained a higher average. Over the last five years, HOLA has maintained an accumulative 99% high school graduation rate among seniors who completed the senior academic program, has maintained an accumulative 97% college persistence rate among its scholarship recipients over the last four years, and has awarded more than $2.7 million in college scholarships to its youth since 2009. Additionally, HOLA has helped to improve the quality of life for countless youth and witnessed them replace drugs, weapons and spray cans with college degrees, musical instruments, books, paint brushes and most importantly, equal opportunities to achieve a brighter future. HOLA boasts a volunteer alumni cohort of 200+ that represent more than 80 higher education institutions, who routinely return to HOLA to give back to their community, mentor, and invest in the next generation of leaders. Our alumni are supported by the greater HOLA collective, made up of HOLA staff, students, parents, and mentors in order to promote their individual and our collective success. Together we can provide educational opportunities that lead to a better quality of life and, eventually, to better outcomes for families in our community.
March 26, 2019