University of Southern California


Working with our neighbors to build a strong community

Univision NAI story

Part 1
Neighborhood Ticket:

Neighborhood Academic Program is Breaking Barriers

Record numbers of students are being accepted at university

Reporter: No one can predict the future, but it can be the wind beneath the wings of destiny. And for thousands of young people growing up in the most marginalized and violent neighborhoods of Los Angeles, their flight is in the face of a storm of socioeconomic disadvantage.

The classroom is full, the classes just started and it’s Saturday, yes Saturday. And each student has pledged to go to school six days a week, for seven consecutive years, until graduating from high school. That is the first requirement to be part of the Neighborhood Academic Initiative.

Lizette Zarate: Inside the school they have the same classes all day (the same teachers), and then on Saturdays, they return to the university where they take additional classes from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon for ten Saturdays per semester.

Reporter: Since 1997, this academic program led by the University of Southern California (USC) has graduated over a thousand students from the neighborhoods of South and East Los Angeles. For 20 years, 99% of all graduates have been accepted into a university.

Antoinette Pippin (NAI instructor): NAI provides a place, a space and a family that the children belong to.

Reporter: For the first time in the history of the Los Angeles Unified School District, one of its high schools located in the south of Los Angeles admitted more freshman students to the university than any other public or private school. The majority of them of Hispanic origin.

Lizette Zarate: The neighborhood is not a reflection of the student. The student will do their job demonstrating that here in South Central Los Angeles, or in East Los Angeles, there are bright minds that will also change the world.

Reporter: Son of immigrant parents with a limited middle school education, Max Nikias president of USC, has not only been responsible for expanding the educational initiative to be able to offer classes on Saturdays in East Los Angeles but also for kindergarten age children in order to expose them to the discipline and academic drive that maybe their parents didn’t have either.

President Max Nikias: We went from five schools all the way to 20 schools over a short period of time. And we project 1,100 students that will be enrolled in this program.

Reporter: That is why Max drops in some Saturdays to visit the educational program so that students keep in mind that they have people believing in them- from the president of the university to their teachers. They are the ones who changed the structure of the neighborhoods where they grew up in.

President Max Nikias: And it’s even challenging the neighbors of those families because these families can become role models for other families in the neighborhood.

Reporter: They are guaranteed a full scholarship to USC when graduating from high school. More than 400 students have received this scholarship.

Honorio Antonio (NAI student) : I am going to feel proud of being, of being from here, being Oaxacan, to be part of a family that many people don’t get to see outside of the neighborhood.

Reporter: And suddenly, what was said in the neighborhood as being crazy or impossible, “I’ll be a student at USC,” or “I’m going to go to college,” is now said with such determination and confidence. The south Compton or East Los Angeles zip codes can no longer overshadow the brilliance and academic potential of a student. Even though that student is from the hood.

In downtown Los Angeles, Julio Cesar Ortiz, Univision 34.

Part 2

Neighborhood Ticket:

Neighborhood Academic Program is Breaking Barriers

Record numbers of students are being accepted at university

Reporter: They say that a flower cannot grow between the concrete of a sidewalk. That poverty will wither any seed that dares to grow. However, on the same sidewalks that are famous for gangs, violence, social disadvantage and low expectations that their residents will ever be university students, the Neighborhood Academic Initiative program continues planting seeds in the asphalt.

President Max Nikias: Very quickly they realize that this university, or any other university for that matter, is within their own reach.

Reporter: Although available to any student interested in participating, the program is competitive. All are considered, but not all students get accepted.

Lizette Zarate: We have 120 spaces each year for sixth grade students. They apply, and we usually receive over 300 applications from students throughout the community.

Reporter: Irene took one of these spaces. She is a resident from the heart of East Los Angeles who started the program when she was 13 years old. Thanks to the preparation it gave her, she is now a professional and not another statistic- a girl from a low-income neighborhood who didn’t study beyond high school.

Irene Bovadilla: I am so proud to be able to say that because of NAI, I can. I got out. I didn’t become one of those statistics. I avoided them, right!?

Reporter: A lover of theatrical plays since childhood, Eduardo comes face-to-face with the announcement of an upcoming production in downtown Los Angeles but also with the future that the academic program managed to help him secure. He is now the theater’s coordinator of logistics and planning, and future mentor and role model for the next student with dreams like his.

Eduardo: When I see or know a college student coming from the same neighborhood, I can give them suggestions because I have experiences that they can understand and relate to.

Reporter: During the many Saturdays of the program, mothers and fathers accompany their children so that they can also learn the best way to support them. This is a bi-weekly commitment from parents that the academic program requires.

Xóchitl Valdez (NAI parent): It’s six years that parents are going to have to be going on Saturdays to work with their children. They have workshops for the parents on how to help their children, and keep their grades on track.

Reporter: The biggest benefit of this program is that even though the university graduates have the opportunity to leave the neighborhood that saw them grow up, they decide to stay in the same area to support other students, and improve their community.

Irene Bovadilla (NAI graduate): There’s a little more hope in our community. There are students who want a better life.  They are fighting for a better life with education.

President Max Nikias: Many of our volunteers, many of our teachers or teaching assistants, are graduates of the NAI program.

Reporter: That is why every year, seeds of possibilities and dreams are planted on urban terrain challenging poverty with dedication, statistics with determination, and when the time comes, proudly harvesting a neighborhood ticket.

Lizette Zarate: They never thought that university was an option for their family, and now those thoughts have been converted into a university culture.

In Los Angeles, Julio Cesar Ortiz, Univision 34.