Kids working toward college despite poverty, crime

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by Sybil Hoffman

azfamily.com

Posted on April 11, 2013 at 8:20 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 4:02 AM

PHOENIX -- It's one of the toughest parts of the city. Most live in poverty and can't afford to buy school lunches, but some kids growing up there now have plans to attend college.

Martha Barrientos has raised her family in South Phoenix for more than a decade. It's an area plagued not only with crime, but also poverty.

"I no have school and I don't want my son and daughter to be like me," Barrientos told us.


If we don't take our preschoolers and our kindergartners all the way up through our 12th graders and give them the tools to be the next leaders, we are literally writing off a huge percentage of our population and we just can't do that.

- Rachel Yanof, Phoenix Collegiate Academy


That's why she enrolled her children at Phoenix Collegiate Academy. Barrientos' son, Alejandro, became a member of the inaugural class. But when he arrived, he was hit with a harsh reality.

"I really didn't know about history or science for the most part," he said.

Rachel Yanof is the executive director at Phoenix Collegiate Academy.

"On average, students arrive to us between two and three grade levels behind in reading and math and probably never having had science or social studies," she said.

It's not just a solid academic foundation the kids lack. For many, their home lives are precarious, as well.

"We've had students who in the middle of the day have found out their parents no longer have custody of them and they're now wards of the state," Yanof explained.

Yanof opened PCA in 2009.

"If we don't take our preschoolers and our kindergartners all the way up through our 12th graders and give them the tools to be the next leaders, we are literally writing off a huge percentage of our population and we just can't do that," she said.

Part of the necessary tool kit means daily exposure to everything from social studies to art, history and science.

Yanof's vision includes putting college within reach.

"Once they start teaching you about college, you see all these other things that, there's just so many things you can do," Alejandro said.

In order to get accepted into college, the kids are working hard now, spending nine hours in class every day.

"Our kids are here more than most people go to work," Yanof said.

Yanof's determination and dedication to excellence has led to many accolades, the most recent was being named Arizona's Charter School of the Year.

"She [Yanof] doesn't understand or accept that this can not be done, that we can't change children's futures," Eileen Sigmund, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, said.

As for Alejandro's future, he doesn't have it entirely mapped out yet, but he knows what he wants.

"I don't want to be rich, but I want to help my community in the future," he said.

Yanof's work is far from over. A second PCA campus for ninth through 12th grade will open this fall.

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