August 4, 2000
By Kristian Ziemer
Quietly situated in what appears to be a remote, desolate forest, Preuss Model School lies on UCSD's campus, wrapping up its last week of classes. Perhaps it is the fact that the college students have gone home for the summer, or are merely lying low during their summer sessions, but Preuss lays low as well: subdued it lies, a few scattered bungalows hidden between the trees. Seeing this tranquil view, one mustn't forget the struggles Preuss overcame their first year, creating progress while sharing their limited facilities with everyone from Chargers spring training, to summer camps.
One school bus pulled up dropping off a hand-full of children. Their steps crackled through the wood chips as they headed straight for their classes to suddenly disappear. These children are a few of the lucky and hard working youth who were exposed to UCSD's first model school in the center of the campus this year. The children were still attending classes while many of the college students were already well into their summer vacation.
This long school year and long school day is part of what Preuss is all about. The students attend school 7 hrs a day, 8:45a.m. - 4:15p.m., as opposed to the usual 6 hrs and 15 minutes, and begin in September and end July 28.
This may seem to pose a lot of pressure on the children, but Preuss' goal is to foster well-rounded, college bound children. The students are well aware of this and are reminded frequently. With affirmative action a mere echo of the past, positive steps like Preuss School is taking, are essential in the education of Latinos and the enhancement of the competition on the collegic level.
With positive role models, high
expectations become commonplace, and achievement, as anticipated,
will become automatic. And the under-representation of Latinos
as well as other minorities in the universities will hopefully
be lessened due to a fresh batch of children with higher goals
and greater expectations of themselves and of their community.
In order to get accepted a student must submit an application to the school where it is reviewed to see if various stipulations are met: the family must be low income, his/her parents must not have graduated from a four year college or university, and the student must show promise of succeeding in an environment which stresses a rigorous college preporitory curriculum. A lottery is performed of the eligible students.
At present the school is 54% Latino. One of the requirements of the school is that the students must be bilingual/ biliterate in any language. Spanish is the language that has been chosen; therefore, whether or not the students already speak the language they attend Spanish classes. For the students who already speak the language, they are given additional help in grammar and literature.
The school's principal Dr. Doris Alvarez believes that this program makes "an important statement which is the keeping of the language, making sure the students don't lose it, and that they know it well so that they are better equipped to use the language for the betterment of themselves and for the culture."
One key element to the success of the school is that the students are expected to achieve. They carry with them the confidence that they are of the few who made it into the school and must maintain a 3.0 grade point average in order to get into college. These high expectations create a mentality of succeeding and progressiveness and are engrain in the minds of the Latino youth. At the same time students who receive below a 2.5 GPA are put on probation, given additional help, and next year will be attending Saturday school to show that they cannot merely slide by at this school. Alvarez was impressed with the test scores this year, saying that the children are doing well academically.
She says that the message conveyed is that "if you put in effort, that is what will give you rewards." The students learn that with their own effort they can make a difference and that they must take advantage of the opportunities they are provided with- like utilizing the UCSD tutors from the Teacher Education Program on campus. These tutors are available to help the students academically and motivationally. The students are also supported by parent volunteers, an arrangement in which each family is asked to contribute 15 hours for the school year. During "Enrichment Week" the students attend classes with professors, go to UCSD's Rimac facility and explore other areas of the campus under supervision in order to familiarize themselves more with the campus and show them the more of the opportunities available.
Amidst this environment, Alvarez feels that the children will be better equipped with the necessary drive to prepare them for college.
The students conceded that the school is more difficult than the ones they have attended in the past but are excited to be a part of this new challenge. They appreciate the quality of their teachers and commented positively on the Spanish program available, saying that at their previous schools they had desired to take Spanish but it was only available at the 8th grade level.
They said that it was difficult moving through different buildings so much this year and walking such long distances around campus. For instance their gym classes this year were held across campus in the old student gym. This was a minor obstacle, though, and it only made them more excited to move to a new facility where they can enjoy more school activities- like the ones they discussed the most- their 3 school dances.
Preuss began its first year with 150 students, grades 6-8, with 50 students in each grade. According to their expansion plan, next year they will offer 9th grade and will grow one grade each year until a full junior high/high school is achieved. The expectation is to reach 700 students by the year 2004. 250 students were recently accepted which makes a total of 400 students to begin this next year, with an increase in teachers from 8 to approximately 22.
The school will move to its new site on the corner of Genesee and Campus Point Drive on August 15. Both the students and the principal anxiously await the utilization of this new facility that will be their own and allow them to more comfortably expand. A sports program will be implemented this year, offering all the basic sports with the exception of football. This will make the school more well rounded as well as help motivate the students and allow them to be in the "running" among children who will be their fellow competitors for prestigious colleges in the near future.
The new buildings will eventually facilitate a separate middle school and high school and will allow Preuss to comfortably settle in at UCSD and progress even further towards future opportunities for these children.
(Kristina Zimer [pictured] is a student at UCSD, studying Literature, and interning with La Prensa San Diego for the summer.)