Partnership sets sights on college prep

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Excellence and Justice in Education Academies in El Cajon and Barrio Logan College Institute announced its partnership last week to prepare K-12 students in the El Cajon area to be the first in their families to college.

Under this partnership, BLCI will move its El Cajon operations to the EJEA campus, which serves more than 800 transitional TK-8th grade students and will also provide returning alumni enrolled in local high schools with direct access to BLCI’s 100% effective after-school tutoring and college and career readiness programs.

BLCI CEO Sara Boquin said BLCI has been around since 1996, starting as an after-school tutoring program for second graders, getting them ready for third-grade proficiency tests that a majority of students in Barrio Logan, and that El Cajon has similar circumstances with recent migrants, and English language learners.

“Over the years as the organization grew, the students stayed in the program. So at some point we became a college-going organization and now we really want students to graduate from college,” she said. “Our work really involves the parents. We believe that family, as a unit, is what really drives a student’s success and their ability to go on to college and graduate.”

Boquin said its program is based on the ABC’s of college success. She said A is for academic.

“It really is building an academic foundation, especially for our younger students. It is focused on third through fifth graders,” she said. “The other component, the B, which we focus on with middle schoolers, is building and behavioral skills. Things that make them look at professionalism, making eye contact with adults, how to approach someone, how to ask questions, but also what is their heritage. Who are they and where do they come from, understanding their role in society and themselves because we know that the more students know about who they are, the more confident they are. And they tend to be more successful. For high school students we really focus on the C component, college and career. Taking advanced placement courses, looking at majors, and looking at what they need to do to be competitive for universities. We help the students in their extracurriculars and their academics.”

Boquin said it is important for students to understand at an early age what classes and extracurriculars they need to take to go to college for the career of their choice. She said exposure to internships, understanding major requirements, and knowing your strengths are part of the path to success for college-bound students.

BLIC Chief Programs Officer Cristina Aguirre said it is important to be successful and prepared to go to college, but it is also important for students to learn how to reduce the debt of higher education.

“If a student knows what they want to do, the more likely they are going to graduate within those four years in less debt and go on to their career,” she said. “We follow our students through college and after college. Following that data and seeing how successful our students are because we have prepared them that well. They are leaving with less debt compared to other students nationwide.”

Boquin said they are excited about the partnership with EJEA.

“They have opened the doors. Welcomed us. Provided us three classrooms, which is an incredible and generous offer,” she said. “The majority of our students there are either from Hispanic descent or Arabic descent.”

EJEA CEO Janet Vasquez said most students who go through EJEA transfer to local charter schools and district high schools nearby.

“As we grew and our students left us and moved on to high school and they would come back to talk to us, we saw the need to continue to prepare our students because they were not always getting the right information they needed to succeed in high school,” she said. “So to really support our students as they moved on we decided we needed to continue that support, even after they left us. That is one college readiness program that has really supported our students. That they have someone here that they can talk to.”

Vasquez said its counseling addresses if students are taking the right classes, taking the right advanced placement tests, supports students with college applications, support students in community colleges and universities.

“We do our best to see how our students are continuing to do, and we take ownership of our communities and families that we serve and make sure they know we are always here as a resource for them,” she said.

Vasquez said five years ago it began its Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which has been a “huge success.” She said where other school’s AVID enrollment dropped during the pandemic, EJEAs increased.

“The students really want to learn about college readiness, and they begin to do the research on colleges and universities,” she said.

Vazquez said for its students, even in kindergarten, it is not a question if you are going to college.

“If we prepare our students for college readiness then we are preparing them to enter the world regardless of college pathway or career pathway,” she said. “Our students receive that message at a very young age, even at TK.”

Vasquez said part of EJEA’s mission is to continually find partners that support its students and community, so the partnership with BLIC is perfect as its mission aligns with theirs.

Boquin said this is “a match made in heaven.”

“We are proud to call the EJEA campus the new home of BLCI-El Cajon,” said Boquin. “We are excited to extend to EJEA families BLCI’s record of enrolling in college 100% of the first-generation students and families that we serve. The families that we serve together will not ask if they will go to college. They will only ask where they will go to college.”

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