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UCLA Community School: Making a Major Difference


By Alison Hewitt

Published Sep 17, 2014 8:00 AM

In just five years, the percentage of students going to college has almost tripled.


UCLA Community School science lead teacher Pedro De Leon quizzes students on the lab equipment they will be using. Photo by John Vande Wege/UCLA.

Before Eric Alejo enrolled as an eighth-grader at the UCLA Community School in Los Angeles' Koreatown, he never figured he'd go to college. But when his teachers asked not if he would continue his education, but where, he changed his mind. So now, although he's four years from graduating, he already says, "I'm the first one in my family to go to college. I'm also the first to graduate high school."

Hear more about the UCLA Community School and its success.

Alejo's story represents a remarkable shift brought about by the Community School, a K-12 school created through a partnership between UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Since the school opened in 2009, the percentage of high school graduates in the area who go to college has risen almost three-fold — from 33 percent to 95 percent. Last June, the first group of seniors who spent all four years at the high school graduated, and more than half gained admission to four-year schools, one-quarter to UC campuses.

Teachers at the Community School focus on ensuring that students are qualified to apply to a University of California campus — steering them to the college prep classes and making sure they know the deadlines for registering for PSATs and SATs. This fall, the school will also hold a pizza party where seniors can begin their college applications with guidance from academic counselors and teachers.

The school's students come from the largely Hispanic and Asian immigrant communities of the Pico-Union and Koreatown neighborhoods. More than 75 percent are economically disadvantaged and only 6 percent of their parents are college graduates.


UCLA Community School math teacher and senior leadership sponsor Maria Nakis helps students sign up for BruinCorps tutoring. Photo by Sebastian Hernandez/UCLA.

The key to the school's success, says math teacher Maria Nakis, is its personalized approach. "I've developed much closer relationships with these students than at any other school where I've worked, because even if they're not in my class, I've seen them all every day for four years," she said.

Each student is part of a class of about 20 students that meets three times a week for two years, first as freshmen and sophomores and again as juniors and seniors. Advisors keep tabs on their grades and discipline in other classes and how things are going at home. Instead of a single-class snapshot, they get a view of the whole student. If students start to slip, the advisors catch it in time to help them bring their grades up.

As a pilot school with an unusual agreement with United Teachers Los Angeles, the Community School has autonomy over its budget, staffing and curriculum, giving teachers latitude to bring innovative approaches to their classrooms.

Each year, more than 200 UCLA faculty, staff and students get involved at the school, mentoring and tutoring, teaching after-school enrichment classes and helping develop the curriculum. In addition to providing a cutting-edge education for Community School students, UCLA's involvement is producing insights for UCLA faculty that ultimately could help improve education throughout Los Angeles and around the country.

This story is based on an article in the UCLA Newsroom. To view the original full-length article, visit