This article was produced in partnership with LA School Report.
(Los Angeles) — The first class to graduate from an innovative university-based charter school is sending all 84 grads to four-year colleges, most with scholarships.
Valerie Childress watched her quadruplets graduate Saturday evening on the campus of the University of Southern California with tears in her eyes: “I said I wasn’t going to cry, but I have been waiting for this moment since they were born,” Childress said outside USC’s Bovard Auditorium. “All of them are graduating and all of them are going to college.
“I’m so proud, and I’m so grateful to this school.”
The Childress quads are part of the first graduating class of USC Hybrid High School, an LA Unified charter school operated by Ednovate, which focuses on personalized learning. The students landed more than $5 million in scholarships and 400 acceptances from schools such as University of Pennsylvania, UC Riverside, Pepperdine, Cal State LA, California Institute of the Arts, UCLA and, yes, six to USC, which sponsors Ednovate.
The school, near downtown and on the first floor of the old Los Angeles World Trade Center, is 74 percent Latino, 22 percent black and 85 percent in lower socioeconomic families. All of the graduates have completed graduate prep courses, 10 percent are “DREAMer” immigrants and 85 percent are first-generation college students in their families.
USC Hybrid High School is unique because it is a personalized college prep school where everyone has a Chromebook and teachers monitor each student’s performance every step of the way. The students learn to be self-directed and self-motivated in their schoolwork.
Ednovate has two schools in LAUSD right now (USC Hybrid High and USC East College Prep, which just opened in Lincoln Heights this year). Santa Ana in Orange County will open in August and two other schools have been approved to open in LAUSD in 2017.
“When I graduated here from USC there weren’t that many charter schools in the country,” said Ednovate President Oliver Sicat before the ceremonies. “The idea that I can start a charter or create a high school was not available to me at the time,” Sicat said, but he knew he wanted to intersect entrepreneurship with education, and that’s what he’s doing now with the help of his former alma mater.
“I have been thinking about this moment for quite a while, it’s the culmination of hundreds of staff members, students, parents and partners,” Sicat said. “We have created a positive multi-generational change in these families, with the first generation to attend college for most of them and trying to break the cycle of poverty.”
One of their students was homeless when she enrolled as a freshman and entered through the foster program. “She worked through some really tough conditions to transition to college prep and is now going to a four-year college on scholarship,” Sicat said.
Another student acted out by tagging bathrooms and skipping classes when they asked why he wasn’t doing his homework. He said that everyone in his family was either in auto mechanics, on drugs or in a gang. He wanted an option out of it to break the cycle.
“That student is now going to a college outside of the city,” Sicat said. “That’s one of the amazing stories that has come from here.”
Tristian Corona, 18, is the oldest of six siblings in his family and now has a scholarship to UC Merced where he wants to major in mechanical engineering. “The teachers here really helped create a pathway for me and inspired me,” he said.
His father, Raymundo Corona, said he has home-schooled his children until he heard that the school was opening and enrolled his son in the freshman class. “My wife and I went to district schools and we were not comfortable sending our children there,” he said. “The local schools were overcrowded and he would get lost in the crowd. Here, he got personalized teaching and reached a level he never would have. They are strict and wear uniforms, and so they can focus on their work and not trying to be trendy.”
Another student, Pamela Joya, is one of the top five scoring students in the school and reminisced about some of the good and bad over the past four years. Some teachers left, some persevered. “We stayed up late at nights and cried and wanted to give up, but they set the bar high,” Joya said. “And many of us are now the first in our families to even touch a college campus.”
Class valedictorian Vanessa Ruiz translated the opening speech into Spanish for the mostly Latino audience. Another student speaker at the graduation ceremony was Juan Castro, who landed a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. He encouraged his fellow students to remember all the firsts in their school: first prom, first senior camp, first graduating class, and their principal, Mide “Mac” Macauley, who provided all of them motivation.
The principal recalled the first hot summer day when school started four years ago for this class and admitted, “It was novelty and confusion for all of us.”
USC President C.L. Max Nikias told the students in his keynote address: “The decisions you make will determine your character, and good judgment is the difference between success and failure.” He called the accomplishments at the high school a “historic graduation day.”
Karen Symms Gallagher, dean of USC’s Rossier School of Education and chairwoman of Ednovate’s board, said, “We have all been looking forward to this four years ago since we welcomed the freshman class and it really is the culmination of our initiative in the school of education to improve urban education globally, nationally and locally. It is nice to see them in their hats and robes today.”
She added, “I see this as a model for university school collaboration for LAUSD and other districts throughout the nation.”
For the mother of quadruplets, Childress said she is emotional and ecstatic. “They are quadruplets and did not fit in to a conventional high school and Hybrid was a good fit, it was small, very organized and the best thing for them to flourish.”
One of her daughters, Cambria Kelley, gushed, “One thousand words cannot tell how elated I am to graduate. This is a new chapter for me, I’m opening a new book in my life. As a family we have always bonded and done things together, and this is a new beginning for us all.”
Cambria has a scholarship to UC Riverside. She plans to study creative writing.