“Something You Can Achieve”

Recent USC Hybrid High School graduates begin their college journey

By Rebecca Trounson

It is the first day of the fall semester at USC and freshman Pamela Joya has a few opening day jitters. But not many. Pamela is a member of the first graduating class of USC Hybrid High School, USC Rossier’s downtown Los Angeles charter school, and one of six Hybrid High grads to be admitted to USC. She feels well prepared.

“They expected so much of us at Hybrid High,” says Pamela, an 18-year-old from Gardena, as she stops to chat before her first USC class. “I feel like they taught us well. We’re ready. More than anything, they taught us that college is something you can achieve.”

USC freshman Pamela Joya (center) is adjusting well to college life.

USC freshman Pamela Joya (center) is adjusting well to college life. Photo by Margaret Molloy.

Her only real nervousness is about making friends and pushing herself to be social, says Pamela. Her father is a locksmith at L.A. County-USC Hospital and her mother works in finance for USC Marshall’s marketing department.

A psychology major, Pamela likes to get ahead and has already done some of the reading for her first class. “Now, I have to meet people, create study groups and figure out how to balance everything,” she says.

A fellow Hybrid High alum, Eunice Barragan, her hair dyed a bright purple, arrives fresh from calculus, her first class. It went well, she says.

A cheerful 18-year-old from Compton, Eunice is a biochemistry major whose father works at a restaurant on campus and her mother at Taco Bell. The youngest of six children, she is taking 18 units this semester and is comfortable with her tight schedule.

With a confidence she credits to her teachers and counselors at Hybrid High, she also “walked on” to the Trojan marching band, a commitment of at least 10 hours a week.

Eunice played the xylophone in Hybrid High’s small band. At USC, she chose the trumpet, although she had never played it before. She is among half a dozen freshmen in the band’s large trumpet section who had no previous training.

She laughs about her first day of summer band camp. “I had to ask, ‘How do you make noise out of this thing?’” she says. “It was hard! I have to practice a lot, but the teachers are good. I can hit most of the notes now.”

Junior Peña, another Hybrid High grad, comes up, carrying the skateboard he uses to get around campus.

He has just finished his first class, a calculus course aimed at future engineers and scientists. In high school, he and another student attended a nearby community college to take advanced math courses, and he felt well prepared during his first math lecture at USC.

“It may take more physics than I’ve had, but it’s just differential equations,” says Junior, 18, who grew up a few blocks from USC, in South Los Angeles.

“With math, you’ve got to practice — one of my friends at Hybrid High said it’s not homework, it’s ‘practice,’” says Junior, who plans to major in physics, math or both.

Math and physics are his favorite subjects. “It all just makes sense,” he says thoughtfully.

But he also likes philosophy and, in high school, took two community college philosophy classes. Heidegger and Kierkegaard are his favorites.

In 2012, after years of research and planning by USC Rossier, USC Hybrid High School opened in downtown Los Angeles.

The high school is run by Ednovate, a charter management organization developed by Rossier. Most Hybrid High grads are the first in their families to go to college.

Pamela Joya, Junior Peña and Eunice Barragan, along with fellow USC freshman Angeles Medina, are among Hybrid High’s first graduating class.

“They expected so much of us at Hybrid High…. More than anything, they taught us that college is something you can achieve.”
—Pamela Joya, 2016 Hybrid High graduate and USC freshman

Ednovate and Rossier have recently opened two additional high schools. Both are based on Hybrid High’s model of personalized learning, combining highly effective teachers with cutting-edge technology and intensive advising for all students.

After a challenging first year, Hybrid High’s education model — and the school’s charter — were revised in the second year to allow for more teacher autonomy over classroom instruction, making way for all types of learning.

“It was pretty chaotic,” Junior says of the first year. “Later, it became more structured and that helped many of us.”

Nearly half of Hybrid High’s first class and some teachers left that year. Their spots were filled quickly and school leaders describe the first year as difficult but essential, as they learned what worked, and what didn’t, in their new charter school.

Two years later, Ednovate’s second school, USC East College Prep, opened in Lincoln Heights near the USC Health Sciences Campus. This fall, a third opened, USC College Prep-Santa Ana Campus.

In April, the Los Angeles Unified School District approved an even broader expansion. Two more Ednovate high schools, in East Los Angeles and Pico-Union/Westlake, are opening in fall 2017.

Even for its first class, however, Hybrid High managed to meet a key goal: 100 percent of its seniors graduated and were admitted to at least one selective four-year college or university. In fact, the school’s 84 graduating seniors earned 437 college admittances.

The graduates also received $4.8 million in scholarships and grants to help pay for college, a major boost for a class in which 85 percent of students come from low-income households.

In June, the graduates, their families, teachers and leaders from Rossier and USC, including USC President C. L. Max Nikias, filled USC’s Bovard Auditorium for a jubilant commencement ceremony.

“All of you — students and families — are now the role models for those who will follow,” USC Rossier Dean Karen Symms Gallagher, who chairs Ednovate’s board, told the class.

Indeed, as she and others have said, Hybrid High students carry with them the college dreams of their families and communities.

Their success, and that of their school, underscores USC’s longstanding efforts to revitalize the neighborhoods near the campus, as well as the university’s commitment to use its research and resources to help reform public education in the Los Angeles area.

Ednovate follows in the tradition of USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a long-running program that has helped hundreds of neighborhood students gain acceptances to college, including USC. The Foshay Learning Center, a K-12 public school less than a mile from the University Park Campus, is the most represented high school in this year’s freshman class at USC, with 19 incoming students.

Hybrid High students are told from their first days that they represent what school leaders call “Positive Multigenerational Change,” a slogan printed in gold letters on the school’s bright red P.E. shirts. They are encouraged to use their college degrees and careers to help boost their communities and families.

Students take the message to heart.

They volunteer in community projects, often working with children and youth. And those now at USC also hope to give back through their intended careers: Pamela as a psychologist, Eunice as a pharmacist and Junior as a professor or researcher.

Another part of Hybrid High’s model involves intensive advising; from the first day of school, all freshmen are assigned to a teacher adviser, who meets with each student twice a day and remains with them all four years. This structure helps students develop a deep relationship with an adult mentor and creates a community that fosters academic and emotional support.

In these “Advisory” sessions, teachers get to know their students and their families and instill time management and study skills, says David Hernandez, a Hybrid High teacher and USC alum who serves as adviser this year to 21 students.

Last year, his advisees included Eunice Barragan, who benefited from his time management lessons. “Procrastination is still a thing, but it’s better,” she says, grinning.

“We try to help students learn to advocate for themselves,” Hernandez said. “It’s a skill set that not a lot of college students have. We really try to set up our students for success, to learn to be self-aware and recognize their strengths as students, and also areas for growth.”

Hybrid High’s leaders also seek to ensure that another of its aims is achieved: That at least 90 percent of the school’s graduates make it through their first year of college, a crucial period during which many students become discouraged and drop out.

Meeting that goal is the charge of Hybrid High’s new alumni coordinator, Nathan Olmeda.

In August, Olmeda began checking in with the 84 new graduates, offering to answer questions about registration, housing issues or other concerns. Much of his initial work has involved interpreting financial aid forms, he says, and where needed, trying to resolve problems.

Twice, worried students have told him about bills for $3,000, only to learn they had financial aid credit in that amount. “They were really relieved,” he says.

Other issues may involve a student’s home life.

“Many of our students are first-generation or low-income, and their parents may be immigrants,” Olmeda says, who was himself a first-generation college graduate. “I try to help everyone understand the benefits and the commitments of college and how those may change family dynamics.”

He plans to be in direct contact with each Hybrid High graduate at least once a month. In between, he sends group messages on social media, offering general encouragement and tips on study habits and money management.

“We want everyone to make it through,” he says.

Junior Peña and the other Hybrid High grads at USC appreciate that support. Each day, Junior says, he looks at the Ednovate sticker he placed on his computer long ago and remembers his path to college.

“We owe it to Hybrid High that we’re here,” he says.


This article appeared in the fall/winter 2016 issue of USC Rossier Magazine.

*Thank you to all of our donors who generously supported USC Rossier during fiscal year 2016 (July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016).

View the Honor Roll