In 2010, two Teach for America teachers—Sara Hernandez and Rachel Torrey—put their minds and efforts together to help some of their most gifted students get into LA’s most prestigious private high schools. After recognizing that this opportunity wasn’t available to most other public schools, they started an organization called HYPE which later merged with and became known as YES (Young Eisner Scholars). YPI and HYPE teamed up six years ago to bring this opportunity to YPI charter schools—Bert Corona and Monsenor Oscar Romero Charter School. The result is a partnership that has changed and brightened the lives of 22 YPI students. This is the story of one of them: Jackie Garcia.
My name is Jackie Garcia and I’m 18 years old. I come from a pretty big family—my Mom, my Dad and three sisters. We speak Spanish and English at home. My parents are both immigrants and they’ve been here for a very long time. Luckily they’re finally citizens. We’re a pretty big and loud family and there’s a lot of girls!
I attended Bert Corona and it was actually so much fun for me. A lot of people dislike their middle school years, but I had a really great time there. I became really close with a lot of my teachers. I met some of my best friends there who I still speak to today. I think that experience is really rare. And I
remember YPI’s presence at Bert Corona. It was a long time ago—6 years—but I remember they had an afterschool program called 21st Century where we would play sports and do our homework.
I remember getting a call over the summer of my 6th grade. It was about this program called YES and I remember not wanting to do it because I was really scared. When they described it, they said that they wanted to help me get into private school. When you’re young, you want to stick with your friends. I remember meeting Rachel. It was Jackie, Marco and myself. We wrote some essays and then we were interviewed. We all got in and started the program over the summer. We took the route to DTLA and we met all these different students. We became close friends with them and Rachel was our teacher. It was just Rachel and a group of about 20 kids.
We also went on trips. I remember going to Santa Monica and to the Getty Villa. We went to the beach and we were also trying all these different types of foods. I was so afraid to taste the Ethiopian food, but now I really want to go try it again. I’ve been thinking about it lately.
Then in 7th grade, we met mostly every week and did test prep for our ISEEs (Independent School Entrance Exams). At the end of 7th grade, Rachel gave us a list of schools she thought would be right for us. We researched the schools and set up interviews. In 8th grade we started looking at them and went through our application process and by the end of the year we found out whether or not we got it. Then it was just making a decision. My decision was Campbell Hall.
Being a YES student I’ve realized how much of a privilege it is to come to a private school and how different things are. Things are never equal and I’ve realized that so much. Rachel told us to prepare for that when we were in middle school. I’ve very aware of the things that we have here and I know I wouldn’t have had them if I had gone to a regular high school close to my home. I’ve become really grateful for these things and I know I shouldn’t take them for granted.
When you’re a YES student, you have this big sense of pride. I didn’t let the fact that I was so different from a lot of the other kids here get in the way. I knew I deserved to be here as much as anybody else. I worked really hard to get good grades and to find my place even though I didn’t fit into the demographics that a lot of the kids here fit into.
As far as the college process goes, YES exposed me to a lot schools I wouldn’t have thought of. I think the biggest thing is exposure. If I hadn’t been in YES, I probably would have just applied to the UCs or the Cal States. It made me look at a lot of different schools that might be right for me. After hearing what schools I got into, I was talking to so many people about what to do, what school to choose. Being able to sit with Rachel who was honest with me and who confirmed what I needed to hear was a really special moment. I finally made my decision to go to Wesleyan and it was a full circle. It really was. Sitting with Rachel in 6th grade to choosing what college I was going to go to.
I think about this a lot actually. If I was 12 years old and I would’ve turned this down, I think about where I would be right now and that scares me. I have so many great opportunities here. I wouldn’t be able to be where I am today and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without YES.”
Jackie will be attending Wesleyan in the fall where she is considering a major in the Humanities. She was also accepted to UC Santa Cruz, Cal Poly Pamona, LMU, USF, San Diego State, CSUN, San Luis Obispo, USC, Barnard, and George Washington University.