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The Accelerated Schools’ principal has a simple message for her students:

“It’s not if you’re going to go to college, it’s where you’re going to go to college,” Katherine Aguirre said. “It’s not an option. The options have been limited. Every student takes college prep courses. Every student is expected to get all the way through calculus. If they have difficulty, we’ll provide them with the support.”

That may sound like a lot of pressure, but the mostly Black and Latino students are falling in line. Founder and CEO of The Accelerated School, Johnathan Williams, has created an environment where students are pushed to succeed.

“It’s a healthy tension,” Williams said. “It’s the college expectation for everybody.”

Williams, a UCLA graduate, has set the bar pretty high for his students.

“I expect them to do something bigger,” Williams said. “They experienced me, so their platform starts where mine ends. I make it very clear that I expect great things from them.”

That may sound like a difficult goal to reach, taking into account that the school sits on the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Main St., because public schools in that area traditionally struggle due to overcrowding and lack of funding. When students struggle, it becomes a reflection on the community at large, and people look at Black and Latino children as being less smart than other children, as it if were an inherent issue. The Accelerated School is proving that is not the case.

“Our kids are neighborhood kids,” Aguirre said. “These are not students that we ship in from anywhere. We are not hand picking them. We are selecting them by random lottery. These are our kids. Some of them live across the street, they live next door. It’s an absolute mix of what our neighborhood has.”

Aguirre does not believe in the stereotype that children from lower income areas are not as smart, or cannot succeed on the level of children from higher income areas.

“We’re more capable,” Aguirre said. “Because we’ve gone through adversity and we’ve gained strengths from that area. We’ve gone through obstacles that others have not. That gives you practical application, that gives you a drive. We make sure that our students know that they are bigger, stronger, and faster. Because they have to compete with kids coming out of affluent areas.”

That belief in the local children has been a driving force in producing some of the brightest students from any area, high or low income.

Three of The Accelerated School’s brightest students are Donna Medel, Alejandra Castillo, and Jonnathan Garcia. Medel is heading to Columbia University, where she will study biomedical engineering. Castillo will be off to Hobart and William Smith College, where she will study journalism, and Garcia will attend to the University of Wisconsin, Madison to study mechanical engineering.

These three students have succeeded at such a high level that they have been awarded some of the most prestigious scholarships in the nation. Medel’s education is being paid for with the Millennium Gates scholarship. More than 52,000 students apply each year, but only 1,000 receive the award. The scholarship will pay for her undergraduate degree, masters degree, and Ph.D.

Castillo and Garcia both received the Posse scholarship which will pay for their undergraduate degrees.

For these students, The Accelerated School has been a challenge, but it has been more than worth it.

“At times I do feel that it is stressful, but at the same time, I do like the feeling of being productive everyday,” Medel said. “It’s not just a waste of time where you can go into class and just put your head down on the desk. I like that the AP (advanced placement) classes push us further than what we thought our potential was.”

While students at other schools take a lot of free time, these students are hitting the books.

“My friends ask me what I’m doing, and I tell that I’m studying at home,” Medel said. “They ask me if I want to hang out, and I have to tell them ‘sorry, I have homework to do.’ Everyday they’re going out, and I ask them about their homework, and they say that it doesn’t matter.”

These three students have benefitted from the smaller class sizes and more interaction with the teachers.

“I think that it’s a totally different environment here because most public schools are really big,” Garcia said. “But here it’s really small. So you get that one-in-one with the teacher that you can’t get at most other schools where there are like 50 people in one class.”

There may be pressure, and “healthy tension,” but that drive to succeed is leading these students in the right direction.

“They’re always pushing us to apply for college and to apply for scholarships,” Castillo said. “They also push us to go beyond our comfort zone.”

Because of the overcrowding of many public schools, students can easily fall through the cracks. They can be pushed through even though they are not mastering the material. But that is not how Aguirre runs the programs. She has a no “D” policy. If a student cannot score at least a 70 percent, that student will not move on to the next level.

“It’s not about pushing you through,” Aguirre said. “It’s about making sure that you have the skills to finish at a university. I’m not going to set kids up to fail. It’s not fair, it’s not what they deserve. I just won’t have it. I just can’t do it. Is it time consuming? Is it difficult? Is it a lot of work? It’s a ton of work. Will my teachers work themselves into a frenzy to make sure that one kid gets that one concept? Absolutely. Will we push a student forward because they hit a certain age? It’s not going to happen.”

Aguirre deals with a lot of the same issues that most public schools do, but at The Accelerated School, they find a way.

“My job is to make sure that all of the obstacles are out of the way,” Aguirre said. “That all students are expected to achieve at the same level. If you have a learning disability, we’ll teach you how to get around that. If there’s a behavior issue, we’re going to address that too.”

When Williams founded the school, he believed that it would “take a village” to raise these children the right way.

“You have to have a system that has high expectations for the kids, which means that the teachers, the parents, and the administrators have a vision for where this young child will be, not in 10 years, or 20 years, but over the course of their lifetime,” Williams said. “We talk about those things. We really try to work with parents to see where they see their kids going.”

Williams’ vision has produced some of the best and brightest students that have come out of South Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. It has produced students who will be successful, and come back to help the younger generations.

For more information about The Accelerated School, contact them at (323) 235-6343, or at www.accelerated.org.