On Your Mark, Get SAT, Go!

USC subsidizes test prep workshops to give area high schoolers a better shot at college admission.
IT'S PRETTY MUCH an open secret: kids who take an SAT prep course score higher on the standardized exam than those who don’t. And higher scores mean more offers of admission from better colleges. This year, USC decided to extend these advantages to hundreds of kids from the university’s own neighborhoods.
Through a $30,000 USC Neighborhood Outreach grant, 400 sophomores and juniors from Foshay Learning Center, the USC MaST High School and Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet paid just $5 for a “Taming the SAT” prep course that normally runs $200. The weekend workshops were conveniently held on the University Park Campus and at Bravo High.
Created by the USC Rossier School of Education, Taming the SAT is now an independent organization that offers prep courses under contract with the university.
Students in USC neighborhood schools “have very few opportunities to participate in costly test preparation courses because their parents can seldom afford the fees,” says Taming the SAT program coordinator Peggy Hentschke. “We’ve got some very capable students from our neighborhoods. All we’re trying to do with Taming the SAT is level the playing field,” she says.
SAT preparation courses go back to 1938, when education entrepreneur Stanley Kaplan began tutoring students in his basement. Today, millions of students spend up to $500 an hour on a growing variety of programs designed to help them bone up for the SAT.
“Affluent parents who want their kids to go to college often get them started in seventh, eighth and ninth grades by paying for SAT preparation courses,” says Foshay principal Howard Lappin. “With this new grant, more of our students – whose parents care just as much as those parents who can afford expensive test preparation programs – are able to boost their scores.”
USC officials anticipate that the program will have a ripple effect come the fall. “As a result of these workshops, we hope to see an increase in scores as well as an increase in the number of students who select our university as their college of choice,” Hentschke says.

– Sharon Stewart

Molding Future Latino MDs

A group of Latino students at the Keck School of Medicine of USC have “adopted” 39 science-minded fifth graders from Eastman Avenue Elementary School in a new project called Educación Primero (“education first”). Run by USC’s Chicano/Latino Medical Students Association, the program aims to keep the Eastman kids, who have indicated an interest in science and medicine, on track as they prepare for college. Located about 5 miles south of USC’s Health Sciences Campus, Eastman is bursting with nearly 1,450 students, more than 99 percent of them Latino. “We really want to guide these kids,” says Kevin Marmolejo, a second-year medical student (shown at left, demonstrating how to make a helicopter from paper). USC students kicked off Educación Primero in the winter, busing the 39 youngsters in for an all-day visit, complete with lunch, entertainment and a tour of the campus. The tour included a stop at the medical student MDLs, or “multidisciplinary labs,” where the kids got to experiment with microscopes and stethoscopes. In the coming year, the med students plan to teach the kids about the cardiovascular system and how to prevent the diseases that can harm it. The Keck School students say they plan to continue mentoring these kids through high school, even as program founders graduate and new USC students come to take their place.

– Alicia Di Rado

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Illustration by Michael Klein / photograph by Irene Fertik

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