Mayor Garcetti and YPI Kick Off College Dreams with 11.2 Mil GEAR UP Grant

Mayor Garcetti and YPI Kick Off College Dreams with 11.2 Mil GEAR UP Grant

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE –  November 9, 2017



Josh Joy Kamensky –

(323) 326-7438



More than a dozen LAUSD students hit ‘send’ on their applications to the University of California from the library at the Helen Bernstein Complex in Hollywood, cheered on by a crowd that included teachers, principals, elected officials and dozens of supportive students.

Among the students were a group of Los Angeles sixth graders who, along with more than 2,000 others, will be have access to an extraordinary range of support that will follow them for the next seven years of their studies, with a focus on helping them apply to and matriculate at the college of their choice. The seven-year, $11.2 million Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) grant was awarded to a partnership led by the Youth Policy Institute and the San Fernando-based Vaughn Next Century Learning Center.

“A child’s ZIP code should never be a barrier that puts the dream of a college education out of reach,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Every student in Los Angeles deserves the opportunities and resources they need to stay ahead in school, be prepared for higher learning, and plan for a fulfilling, successful career. GEAR UP will make that possible for thousands of young people in our communities.”

The initiative will follow a cohort of 2,015 middle school students for the next seven years, through the first year of college. Services and programs will include tutoring, summer enrichment, personal, family, college and academic counseling and job/internship placement. Community partners will provide programming ranging from theater studies to financial literacy (including college savings counseling). Students will be added automatically upon school enrollment, with no need for additional steps.

“Getting to college, let alone paying for it, isn’t easy—and if we are going to succeed as a City, we must allow these kids the tools to succeed as students,” said Councilmember David Ryu, who chairs the council committee that covers education issues. “I am so proud of all our students, parents and teachers who work so hard and overcome such great challenges to reach post-secondary education. I want them to know—the City of Los Angeles recognizes those challenges, and is ready to invest in your future.”

“Dixon Slingerland and the entire team at YPI have proven that concentrated collaboration and innovation can lead to breakthroughs in any zip code,” said L.A. Unified Board Vice President, Nick Melvoin, whose district includes the Hollywood and East Hollywood area. “I’m honored to represent the Los Angeles Promise Zone on the school board and I’m eager to see the next generation of impactful partnership for our students and communities.”

The 16 schools awarded the grant are all inside either the Los Angeles Promise Zone or the Los Angeles Promise Neighborhood, federal designations that span neighborhoods in Central Los Angeles and the Northeast San Fernando Valley. High unemployment, high school dropout rates, and a shortage of affordable housing are barriers to a future of hope and promise.

“We know this can work because we’ve seen it work,” said Dixon Slingerland, President & CEO of the Youth Policy Institute, which will provide college counseling services and other academic supports through the GEAR UP grant, as well as administer the grant overall. “Students in GEAR UP classes have already demonstrated dramatic gains, including by as much as 20 points in some test scores. And we know that the community schools model that includes GEAR UP works. When students look around their neighborhoods and face obstacles on the path to success, we’re here to even the playing field.”

The previous GEAR UP grant led by the Youth Policy Institute and located at five San Fernando Valley middle schools has already delivered substantial results, with hundreds of students demonstrating year-over-year improvements in academic achievement. Now, with more than two thousand additional students on board to receive intensive college preparation and family support through 2024, the community school model embodied by GEAR UP and YPI’s place-based programming will have a chance to transform lives throughout Los Angeles.

“On behalf of the students and families of L.A. Unified, I want to thank Mayor Garcetti, Mr. Slingerland and the Youth Policy Institute for this generous GEAR UP grant,” said L.A. Unified Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian. “Creating an ironclad pipeline from middle school to college helps ensure that all of our students are prepared for the rigors of college and are instilled with the desire to pursue a career and become productive members of the community.”

Also speaking at the announcement were students Elizabeth Peña, a UCLA first-year student and a graduate of Helen Bernstein High School, and Edith Zelada Davila, a sixth grader at Vaughn Next Century Learning Center and GEAR UP participant. “My dream goal is to apply to Harvard or UCLA in order to become an engineer while having a dancing scholarship,” said 6th grader Zelada, who had earlier spoken to Peña about her experience. “When I first entered middle school I was involved in a program that would help enhance my knowledge of college and helped prepare me for what my future would hold,” said Peña. “Having so many supportive people helped me maintain that same mindset I was taught at a young age and I continued to strive for college until I made my dream a reality.”

The Los Angeles Promise Zone has been a standout success at attracting federal resources to its communities. The GEAR UP grant is the 63rd federal grant to the Zone since 2013, and the seventh in 2017, for a total of $311 million—all going towards a place-based strategy focused on giving students and their families the resources they need to succeed. The total represents as much federal investment as the nation’s other 21 Promise Zones combined.

The following schools are participants in the grant: Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, Bert Corona Charter Middle School, Bert Corona Charter High School, San Fernando Institute of Applied Media (SFiAM), Discovery Charter High School, Sylmar Biotech Health Academy, Maclay Middle School Academy of Social Justice, Cesar Chavez Learning Academy- Social Justice Humanitas Academy, Cesar Chavez Learning Academy- Arts Theater Entertainment School (ArTES), Cesar Chavez Learning Academy- Academy of Scientific Exploration (ASE), Cesar Chavez Learning Academy- Teacher Prep Academy (TPA), Santa Monica Blvd. Community Charter, Joseph Le Conte Middle School, APEX Academy, Helen Bernstein High School, and STEM Academy of Hollywood.

Other partners in the grant include UCLA, City College and Mission College, LMU, CSUN and CSULA; the Unusual Suspects theater company; Junior Achievement’s Finance Park of Southern California; and Princeton Review.

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About the Youth Policy Institute

Youth Policy Institute has been providing education and support services to low-income families in Los Angeles since 1996 and is the only agency in the country to have been awarded all four federal Neighborhood Revitalization Initiatives: Promise Zones, Promise Neighborhoods (twice), Choice Neighborhoods, and Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (twice). Together, these initiatives form a place-based approach to fighting poverty, reducing crime, improving educational opportunities and creating access to jobs that builds on YPI’s decades of history helping youth and families. For more information, visit



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