Why Lennox: A history of PSP’s 20-year partnership

March 21, 2017 in Articles by Dikla Tuchman

Over 20 years ago, Lennox Middle School (LMS) was engaged in a partnership with UCLA and the Howard Hughes Corporation. Though this partnership, Dr. Glenn Langer, Head of Cardiology at the UCLA Medical School, started volunteering at Lennox School District. He was impressed by the bright, motivated students at LMS and almost equally astonished to find out that a number of those students had not been out of that 1.3 square mile community. Dr. Langer noted that “progression of a student through high school to graduation was problematic; entry to a four-year college, a rarity. Many of the students had never travelled outside the district in their lives!” After all, the ocean is only a couple of miles away, yet many students had never seen it. “This Depression kid immediately identified with these twelve- to thirteen-year-olds,” said Dr. Langer.

Using the LMS-UCLA-Howard Hughes partnership as a springboard, Dr. Langer came to the principal and vice principal of LMS and pitched an idea for a scholarship program to assist students who showed academic promise. The partnership had the following goal: That motivated but economically and culturally disadvantaged students are not limited by their environment but are assured of progressing to a level determined only by their own considerable talents to the end that they will be competitive for entry into four-year colleges with scholarship aid. “That first year, we interviewed about 75 kids and out of those, picked seven to be in the program,” says Meg Sanchez, then LMS assistant-principal and current PSP Board Chair. “Once those kids finished at LMS, those students were sent to a private high school in Playa del Ray in order to keep them on track, in lieu of keeping them with mentors through high school.” Proving far too costly, the private school component was done away with and replaced with mentorship through high school.

To ensure a college-going momentum throughout the duration of the six-year program, students were required to agree that they would attend high schools that promoted college readiness in order to remain a part of the program. At first, that meant students were primarily attending the Green Dot School, Animo Leadership Charter High School. Eventually, other schools in the area became focused on college readiness, including Lennox Math, Science & Technology Academy (LMSTA). As mentors who taught at LMS began migrating to other educational institutions, including LMSTA, the program began to grow in its reputation and partnership at these high schools as well. Now the vice principal at LMSTA, Mario Villanueva was a PSP mentor for several years in the earlier days of the organization, before moving over to LMSTA. He got involved in PSP at LMS initially as an advocate for the program. “I was trying to get certain kids to apply, once they started in PSP I started working with them [as their mentor],” recalls Mario. Even though he has not been a mentor in almost ten years now, Mario says, “I’ve always been the point person at LMSTA for PSP and will continue to be.” As a mentor, it was important to Mario to get to know his students better and to see that they were getting outside of Lennox. “Kids in Lennox don’t get out,” he says. “For me it was about exposure – get to know your city, get to know your community.”

The same was true for Gretchen Ondrozeck, a now-retired teacher who worked as an educator at Lennox Middle School until 2009. She was one of the program’s first mentors and long-time advocate of the partnership between Lennox and PSP. “The closeness of the program with Lennox was helpful,” says Gretchen. “Everything was taken care of by Lennox Middle School and teaming up with another mentor was easy.” As the program continues to grow and expand, mentors from outside of the teaching community have come to the program as well as returning alumni. “At the beginning all of the kids were at LMS and all of the mentors were at LMS so it was so easy to keep things integrated,” says Gretchen. “Also with Meg as the vice principal, things were more integrated with the school.” Regardless, the program’s site of origin and strong tradition in Lennox makes the partnership that began over 20 years ago not only an important one, but essential to the program’s identity and continued work. To date, PSP has seen just over 160 students graduate from the program in Lennox.