For Project GRAD Los Angeles (PGLA), founded in 1999 as the first college access and success organization embedded in high schools in the northeast San Fernando Valley, “Inspiring Students, Transforming Lives,” isn’t just a tagline; it’s the driving force behind everything they do to raise the high school graduation and college acceptance and retention rates for first-generation, low-income, Latin-X students in the region. Ninety-one percent of PGLA’s students are the first in their families to attend college. Over 1,500 students have gone to college with Project GRAD scholarships, and they graduate from college at a rate three times higher than their peers nationally!
Disparities in educational resources and post-secondary access undermine too many low-income, first generation students’ academic success, ultimately affecting the region’s economic vitality and quality of life. For nearly 20 years, PGLA has been on the front lines working to address these disparities for students from the communities of San Fernando, Pacoima, Arleta, and Sylmar. PGLA’s vision is for all students to have the opportunity to experience the transformative power of a college education or access to other post-secondary opportunities, contributing to a vibrant future for our communities.
PGLA’s holistic model is rooted in the belief that efforts to support true college success – “to and through” – must engage students, families, educators, and community partners throughout the educational pipeline. The model encompasses two interconnected initiatives. First, the College Readiness Initiative (CRI) supports students’ preparation to graduate from high school and to be “college ready” to start a post-secondary experience by incorporating four components: 1) college advisement; 2) college experiences (including summer programming); 3) family engagement opportunities; and 4) professional learning opportunities for high school teachers and staff on college access information.
Second, the College Success Initiative (CSI), utilizes a support network consisting of PGLA advisors, PGLA college students (peer-to-peer mentoring) and strategic partners at each of the post-secondary campuses PGLA students attend. This support network strengthens students’ abilities to persist while in college and graduate with the necessary skills and experiences to make them competitive and contributing adults in the workforce. Locally, the CSI partners with California State University, Northridge (CSUN), UCLA, California Lutheran University, Mount Saint Mary’s University, Woodbury University, L.A. Mission College and L.A. Valley College to provide all PGLA college students with crucial access to resources and support systems.
PGLA continuously evolves to address the needs of students and the community. One such example is a partnership with San Fernando High School (SFHS) and CSU, with a demonstration school on the SFHS campus that is supporting all 2,400 SFHS 9th – 12th grade students. An LAUSD school, the demonstration school integrates the data mining, research, and professional expertise of CSUN’s Eisner College of Education. Eisner College is providing teacher professional development, across all subject areas, with the goal of changing curricula and instruction so more students are academically prepared for college or other postsecondary opportunities.
Hanna and Sarah Yocute both attended San Fernando High School and are PGLA College Scholars. The sisters are currently UCLA students; Hanna is a fourth-year music performance student, and her sister Sarah, is a first-year ethnomusicology student. The sisters were invited by Guatemala’s national music conservatory, Conservatorio Nacional de Música Germán Alcántara, where they conducted a master class and musical presentation for 15 students. Hanna wrote an article featured in the UCLA Daily Bruin highlighting points of the trip. Within that article, sharing about her experiences with PGLA and her PGLA advisor, she noted, “[PGLA] allowed me to persevere in music. And not only be diligent but take my musical passions beyond UCLA. I hope this feature brings you great encouragement for the work you are doing at Project GRAD.” Through their words and music, the sisters hoped to convey to their young students the importance of following their dreams and finding their musical passions.
Hanna and Sarah are two examples of the hundreds of PGLA students currently attending college in California and across the nation – living out their dreams. PGLA fills a critical gap for first-generation, low-income, college-bound students, by providing dedicated, individual attention.