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West Sacramento college prep school to graduate its first class

June 7, 2013

Four stories about college

Video (2 min 23 sec)

Videography by Karen Nikos/UC Davis

When they arrived at West Sacramento Early College Prep Charter School as seventh graders, the statistics said they had little promise of graduating from high school, much less moving on to higher education. But on Sunday, 32 historically underserved high school seniors will graduate and take their next step in education — advancing to a university, a community college, a trade or vocational school, or the military.

“We are really proud of the success of these students and their accomplishments,” said Harold Levine, dean of the University of California, Davis, School of Education, which launched the charter school in 2007 in partnership with Sacramento City College and the Washington Unified School District. “The school, the staff and the faculty have clearly made a difference in these students’ lives.” Levine also serves as the charter school’s board president.

Most of these graduates will be the first in their families to attend college; still others have English as their second language. Some of these students struggled with one or more subjects in earlier grades. Now, they boast future plans that include prestigious universities —  UC Davis, UCLA, UC Santa Cruz and others.

They will all graduate at 10 a.m. Sunday at Freeborn Hall on the UC Davis campus, where they will be presented a diploma and T-shirts sporting the name of their future institution of higher learning.

“West Sac Prep” is part of a larger movement, begun a decade ago, to establish “early college” schools throughout the country. The UC Davis School of Education received $400,000 in 2006 from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation’s Early College High School Initiative, which helped launch the school.

Nationwide, 50 percent to 70 percent of children of color, or who live in underserved areas, drop out of high school, said Paul Heckman, associate dean of the UC Davis School of Education and a researcher on school leadership and high school completion issues. Furthermore, the years-of-school completion rates have dropped considerably in the United States in the past 20 years.

The charter school tries to curb this trend by helping students identify questions and interests as they individually learn in a way that works for them, he said.

“Everyone learns differently. That is the approach we take,” said Yolanda Falkenberg, executive director, or principal, at West Sac Prep. Student-designed questions and investigations  — undertaken as scientists, historians, and readers and writers, in consultation with their teachers — are a large part of the school’s curriculum.

Students also can enroll in community college courses while still in high school. One such student, Jonathan Martinez, took a sociology course at Sacramento City College, where he worked on a community youth project. “I fell in love with the topic,” he said, adding that he was influenced by the professor’s enthusiasm. He has decided to attend UC Davis next year to major in sociology.

Falkenberg said the community college courses have worked out well, with West Sac Prep students consistently surpassing their college-age peers in their classes by earning primarily A and B grades in their coursework.  

Admission to West Sac Prep is open and tuition-free to students in grades six through 12. The school makes it a priority to admit students who do not speak English as their first language; come from low-income families; have traditionally struggled in reading, writing, or mathematics; and those who will be the first in their families to go to college.  

The school operates as an independent charter school through a nonprofit public-benefit corporation, made up of the school district, community college district and UC Davis. The school has 171 students.

“We look forward to seeing more graduates in the years to come, and we look forward to the futures of our current class of 2013,” Falkenberg said. “Our students had a dream to go to college, and today is proof that their efforts and perseverance paid off.”


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