A long-standing partnership between USC and Bravo High has deepened the university’s involvement in the East Los Angeles community and helped the medical magnet school become a California Distinguished School.
Bravo’s twin themes of opportunity and expectations prepare students like Jasmine Valencia for a career in the health and medical professions.
No graffiti. No broken windows or rusted chain-link fences. This school’s campus just off the San Bernardino freeway in East Los Angeles looks nearly as clean and orderly as, say, a top-flight medical facility.
That’s no coincidence, given that the Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School near Soto Street was established to prepare students for careers in the health and medical professions. Bravo students and administrators have only to look down the street to be reminded what real-world medical facilities look like: the magnet school stands adjacent to the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, the USC School of Pharmacy, Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, Doheny Eye Hospital, USC/Norris Cancer Hospital and USC University Hospital.
“We’ve been here nine years, but we try to keep the school looking as new as possible,” says Rosa Hernandez, Bravo’s principal and one of its founders. “New students coming in are told from day one, ‘This is your campus. If you like it, then keep it this way.’ For the most part, they’re very proud of it.”
Location helps, but it’s not just proximity to the health-care bastions of USC that rubs off on Bravo’s professional demeanor. The university’s influence goes much deeper. Students at Bravo have countless opportunities to participate in cooperative programs with surrounding institutions. These partnerships, combined with the school’s curricular emphasis on science, math and language arts skills as they relate to the health and medical fields, ensure that Bravo students get experiences “they never would have had at a regular high school,”

As part of their side-by-side work with USC professors and preparation of science fair projects, Bravo students research and co-author peer-reviewed articles for publication. Can you say, “Vasopressin-Induced Neurotrophism in Cultured Hippocampal Neurons”?

Hernandez says.
Bravo’s pride and drive, combined with its side-by-side learning experiences in labs and classrooms on the USC Health Sciences Campus, helped the magnet school achieve recognition as a California Distinguished School for the 1998-99 school year. Bravo was the only member of the Los Angeles Unified School District selected that year.
“One of the reasons we received the award is that we’ve been able to expand our instructional program into our neighboring USC facilities so much since we started,” says Hernandez. “All of that has helped to shape where we are now.”
Bravo first took shape in 1981, when it opened its doors as a magnet school on the grounds of Lincoln High School about a mile north of the present-day Bravo campus. It wasn’t until 1990 that Bravo High held classes in its own building on Cornwell Street.
The school’s name may connote an immodest confidence in success yet to come. Actually it honors Francisco Bravo – a local hero who rose from poverty and, with scholarship help, went on to attend Stanford Medical School. As a physician, Bravo returned to his East L.A. roots, opened his own clinic in 1938 and established a scholarship program for students who were interested in medicine. He died in 1990, just as the school that carries his surname opened its doors.
This surname couldn’t be more apt, given Dr. Bravo’s own triumphant story and now the success of his namesake school.

espite the school’s excellence, there’s nothing elitist about Bravo. As a magnet school, it has no prerequisites – students don’t have to attain a certain score on a certain test to attend. As long as they live within the LAUSD boundaries and submit an application on time, all students are eligible to attend Bravo. Of the 700 applicants who tried for the fall 1999 freshman class, 450 were chosen at random. The remaining students were put on a waiting list.
Bravo’s egalitarian acceptance policy “underscores the fact that opportunities are here for students who are interested, serious about their education and want to take advantage of what’s here for them,” says Janis Berges, an assistant principal at Bravo who was instrumental in preparing its application for the California Distinguished School award.
Once enrolled, students often have a few surprises coming. For example, they soon discover what a health science education really is.
“So many students come in with a very narrow view,” explains Hernandez. “They come thinking ‘medical,’ and they soon find that the limited term is no longer completely accurate. They find out that there are a number of professions and careers out there besides medicine or nursing.”
The students also quickly discover what a health science education is not. Unlike regular high schools, Bravo offers a very focused but limited curriculum. Assistant principal Bob Spears, whose responsibilities include maintaining the school’s top-notch appearance, notes that students “can’t come here and say, ‘Well, I really am not interested in what you have, so I would like you to offer a series of courses in x subject,’ or ‘We’d like to have a football team.’ We respond, ‘I’m sorry, that’s not whatBravo is about.’”
This theme of expectations could be called the Zeitgeist that links Bravo with the other community school efforts USC supports – from the Family of Five Schools surrounding the University Park Campus to the USC Rossier School of E

Bravo's Principal Rosa Hernandez

ducation’s nationally praised Neighborhood Academic Initiative.
“I strongly believe that when you expect people to do something, they will do it,” says Hernandez.
She and her colleagues make a sharp distinction between raising standards and raising expectations. “Expectations are more positive,” she says. “We’re saying: ‘We know you can do it,’ rather than: ‘Well, the standards have just been raised, so you either reach them or you’re out.’”
Usually, Bravo’s expectations are met. The reasons aren’t hard to find. It’s a relatively small school (approximately 1,700 enrollment), compared to many behemoths in LAUSD. And as a magnet school, it has smaller classes: 30 students to a class maximum, with a student-to-teacher ratio of 30-to-1.
Once students enter Bravo’s doors – and receive the encouragement to meet school and personal expectations – the watchword is: opportunity.
“Our mission statement and curriculum emphasize opening opportunities for all students,” Hernandez says, “not just the straight-A and research-oriented students, or those who are going to make it no matter what school they attend.”
Indeed, kids from all backgrounds make up Bravo’s student body. Just under half are Latinos, followed by Caucasians (18.5 percent), Asians (17.2 percent), African Americans (8.4 percent), Filipinos (8.3 percent) and other ethnicities (0.5 percent). Approximately 40 percent live in the area surrounding the East Los Angeles campus – a community largely comprised of poor Latinos. The remaining 60 percent commute from various areas served by LAUSD. Nearly three-quarters of Bravo students qualify for Federal Title I food assistance, indicating that a majority come from economically disadvantaged homes.
“The measure of the success of Bravo is not how many bright, 4.0 GPA students we attract, but how many successful students we graduate,” says Hernandez.
“If we’re doing that, then we’re meeting our challenge. It’s not about the brightest and the best and the freshman class with the top scores, but raising the scores as the students move through Bravo, helping make the dream possible for any student who comes here.”
Dreams of going to college are realized by three out of four Bravo graduates. From the senior class of 1999, for example, 54 percent are now at a four-year university or college (most in California, but 8 percent out-of-state). Another 19 percent are beginning their post-secondary educations at community colleges.

ravo may be a medical magnet school, but it still has to comply with LAUSD guidelines before awarding a high school diploma. So like all graduating seniors, Bravo students must earn a minimum of 220 credit units to receive their diplomas.

Bravo’s very medically minded – in other words, most of its students – can choose from a focused and demanding curriculum. Special electives in the health field, for example, include training to become a medical lab assistant – an elective Armando Perez recently took. Three out of four Bravo graduates go on to college.

This means that in addition to completing the school’s marquee requirements in science and mathematics, students like sisters Jasmine and Janelle Valencia have to take courses in English, social studies, health, foreign language and education and career planning.
“We have some choices we can make, such as taking electives in the arts – like music, dance or drama,” says Jasmine, a Bravo freshman interested in a career in environmental science.
“But they encourage us to use as many of our electives as possible for more courses in science and math,” adds Janelle, a sophomore who nevertheless has plans to sing in the school choir (taught by a music-loving math teacher) and take a class in photography.
For the very medically minded, there’s a stunning array of courses from which to choose. Special electives available in the health field, for instance, include biomedical research, hospital occupation, medical illustration, medical lab assistant, medical microbiology, nursing assistant and ophthalmological technician.
Bravo’s uniqueness has a lot to do with USC’s willingness to get involved. It started in 1981, when LAC+USC Medical Center officially adopted the magnet school. Thanks to the Adopt-A-School agreement, Bravo students can take advantage of USC personnel and site resources, participating in on-site experiences at the medical facilities planned through their classes. Students routinely use the medical center’s labs and gain experience as hospital volunteers. Other connections include a guest speakers program, hospital tours and the shadow-a-professional program.
In addition to this relationship with LAC+USC Medical Center, the university and Bravo have established several other programs together. A sampling:
• The USC Health Sciences Campus Schools Partnership. This effort provides educational, cultural and developmental opportunities for approximately 2,600 children and youth who attend Bravo High School and nearby Murchison Street Elementary School. The program was implemented as part of USC’s Children and Family University Community Initiative.
• USC University Hospital. Bravo students benefit from a relationship with this state-of-the-art teaching hospital through the Hospital Occupations class, which allows students to learn all about the health sciences while gaining experience on the floor working with patients and professionals. Bravo students are also encouraged to participate in the volunteer program at the hospital.
• Community Scholars. Fun-ded by the Community Health Foundation of East Los Angeles Inc. and the Keck School of Medicine of USC, this program targets high-risk students from East Los Angeles schools like Bravo. The effort seeks to help students develop the prerequisite skills, academic competence and motivation to pursue a career as a health professional.
• Medical Counseling, Organizing and Recruitment Program. Designed for Bravo students who have demonstrated an interest in attending college and ultimately gaining entry into a health profession career, this Saturday tutorial program emphasizes support in math, science and English. Tutors – mostly USC undergraduates – work in small groups with Bravo students, some of whom also gain summer work-study experience in a health-care facility.
• Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant. A five-year grant from 1994 through this year has enabled the Keck School to expand its partnership with Bravo. It has provided instructional materials, support for Bravo’s annual
science fair, additional teacher training, even stipends for Bravo students who perform lab work.
• USC Health Consultation Center. Through the center’s preceptor program, Bravo students are assigned to a specific site to gain work experience and knowledge about the health sciences professions.

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