Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced an $11.2 million grant for South LA and other communities that will offer free tutoring, college and career counseling, financial aid services, and other college readiness services to more than 2,000 middle school students in the L.A. Promise Zone and Promise Neighborhood.
The U.S. Department of Education grant will form the L.A. Promise Zone Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP), a partnership with the Youth Policy Institute (YPI) and the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center. It will provide students at 16 schools with access to services from sixth grade through their first year of college.
“A child’s ZIP code should never be a barrier that puts the dream of a college education out of reach,” said 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.”
First introduced in President Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address, the Promise Zone Initiative is essentially a place-based approach to fighting poverty. The areas selected for the program are eligible for various tax credits designed to create jobs and receive aid in the form of coordinated federal assistance on social problems such as crime, inadequate access to affordable housing, and poor educational opportunities. The program puts everyday citizens and local community leaders at the forefront of federal solutions.
Ahead of the announcement, Garcetti attended a workshop with Promise Zone students to speak about the importance of higher education. The GEAR UP launch coincided with the start of college application season, and several high school seniors attending the workshop were able to submit their college applications on site.
“We know this can work because we’ve seen it work,” said Dixon Slingerland, president and 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 in proficiency, with schools increasing by as much as 20 percentage points on standardized tests. 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 level the playing field.”
The Los Angeles Promise Zone serves five culturally diverse Los Angeles neighborhoods: Hollywood, East Hollywood, Koreatown, Westlake, and Pico-Union. And last year, Los Angeles became the first and only city in America with two Promise Zones — after a second designation was awarded to cover a large swath of South L.A.
This was a monumental win for the area as there was widespread disappointment after the South LA community was initially skipped over in the first round of designations. The South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z) includes portions of the neighborhoods of Vernon-Central, South Park, Florence, Exposition Park, Vermont Square, Leimert Park and a small portion of Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw. For more information on the L.A. Promise Zone Initiative, visit www.lapromisezones.org