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“Every day that we come to school, the adults on campus remind us that education is important, and that it will provide us with a better future,” recalled Jesse Alejo, eighth grader at Ánimo Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School (AEO). The teachers, staff, and principal at AEO have been steadfast in creating a rigorous, college-going culture that equips students with the knowledge and resources necessary to pursue higher education.

To truly prepare students for college, AEO has partnered with East Los Angeles College (ELAC) to offer its middle school students college courses. Through this partnership, a professor at ELAC teaches a college course at AEO each semester. The collaboration provides students with the opportunity to learn new skills and earn credits that are transferable at both California State Universities and University of California (UC) campuses. “I know my school is preparing us for college in our day to day classes, but seeing them bring in a college level class showed me how much they care about my future,” said Alejo, “and how I can take advantage of opportunities to get ready for college, now.”

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As the former principal of nearby Oscar De La HoyaÁnimo Charter High School (ODLH), AEO Principal Cynthia Ybarra often encountered students who only started thinking about college once they arrived at a Green Dothigh school. Many of the students from the communities that Green Dot serves will be the first in their family to attend college. For students coming from families with no prior college history, envisioning themselves at college and actually navigating through the system can be extremely difficult.

When Ybarra became the principal of AEO, she wanted to ensure that even the youngest students had viable pathways to college. “When we confirmed that our middle school students were eligible for college courses, Ms.Ybarra and I reached out to ELAC, who has similar partnerships with some of our Green Dot high schools,” said Dora Archila, counselor at AEO.

During the fall, through the efforts of Ybarra and Archila, AEO offered its first college course: Introduction to Engineering. Through this course, students are introduced to mechanical engineering through lecture and hand-on projects that apply lessons and concepts to their everyday lives. Their goal was to create a series of courses that would help pave a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) pathway, teaching students the advanced skills and knowledge necessary for college and careers in the 21st Century workplace.

For Alejo, Introduction to Engineering was the perfect opportunity: “I took this class because I want to become an engineer and figured it would be a good way to better prepare for my future.