Our students were exhausted on Wednesday night but they had enough left in the tank to finish their reflections in their college tour journals:
• “I know now that it is possible for me to go to college. They have something called grants and loans. There are no excuses…”
• “The students we met at USC were inspiring. Especially since one of them went to high school in Chula Vista!”
• “No one in my family has ever visited a university before. Or gone to one. I will be the first.”
• “At first I didn’t know why we were going to the Museum of Tolerance during our LA College Week. What does the holocaust have to do with going to college? We have been reading about the holocaust but it is deeper than that and I am still thinking about what we learned there. Maybe there is no right answer but I am beginning to see a connection.”
• “When I get home I am going to check my class schedule for next year. I could have taken some more challenging classes but I told the counselor I wanted to just take basic stuff. But now, I don’t think basic stuff will get me to USC.”
• “When I first saw the championship banners hanging from the rafters in the Pauley Pavilion I just stood there and cried. I have dreamed about this. I know I can go to school here some day.”
And so on.
Our 8th graders may be only 13 and 14 but they get why we load them on buses and take them to LA for three days in April. This is our second year in what will become our annual LA College Week. It is an extraordinary journey through some of Southern California’s most prestigious universities: USC, UCLA, Pepperdine, Cal State Long Beach, UC Irvine. Our students already visited San Diego State and the University of San Diego and UCSD when they were in 7th grade. As juniors at Chula Vista High School they will vist UC Santa Barbara, Stanford and UC Berkeley. By the time they are seniors, they will have been on the campuses and met the students of 15 to 20 colleges and universities. They will have been to the bookstores and worn the t-shirts and filed their photographs and memories. And of course, they will have demystified the college experience.
Ryan and Marisol designed a three-day itinerary that kept them moving and introduced some very interesting features of LA life: Universal City Walk, the Santa Monica Pier, the Getty Museum and the Museum of Tolerance. It is a lot to pack into three days. And it all connects. And it all reaches them at one level or another.
And now they know that if they can go into 9th grade with a strong wind at their back. They can compete in AP courses. They can involve themselves in community service and leadership roles. They can play sports or march in the band or join a dance team in the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. They can surround themselves with positive people who have the same goals and aspirations. They can rise above the inevitable challenges and difficult circumstances that will no doubt try to push them back from the edge of their dreams.
But in their experience here, in their exhaustion and deep reflection– some of which may even have been written down– 60 more American 8th graders will understand that we determine our own destiny. There are no limitations, no excuses, no barriers. They are as likely to be enrolled at UCLA in five years as any other scenario that they might themselves imagine.
Late on Wednesday afternoon, while our students were still processing the awful lessons of the Museum of Tolerance, we drove to the Getty Museum and breathed the different air. There was light there. Our students looked at each other in the eyes. Their playful spirit returned.
“I liked the gardens of the Getty Museum. And the stairs and all the fountains. And I liked the view of LA. I could see UCLA from the back balcony. I could see myself there in the future.”
We asked our students to find a spot on the sprawling stairs leading up to the main museum and to adopt a distinctive pose. We took a a group picture. There are no names in the caption. The figures are too small to identify. But together, there is a synergy that we hope will last. They laughed as they scrambled for their own place to stand and fumbled through several awkward iterations of their final pose. Some never quite found it. Others became impromptu models. And even 8th graders, having the time of their lives, discovered right there on Getty’s steps that life can indeed imitate art.