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New gift ensures hundreds more L.A. children will embrace reading

USC’s Kinder 2 College program helps children from surrounding neighborhoods to become proficient in reading and writing by the end of third grade

children looking up at display of Saturn pointed out by the adults
Participants in the Kinder 2 College program take a field trip to Griffith Observatory. (USC Photo/David Sprague)

Thanks to a $1 million gift to USC Kinder 2 College, many more Los Angeles children will boost their reading skills at what may be the most critical time in their lives.

USC’s Kinder 2 College program helps children ages 5 and up from surrounding neighborhoods to become proficient in reading and writing by the end of third grade. The new gift will double the number of participating children to 200. The funds, provided by philanthropist Pamela Buffett, also will kick off new after-school sessions in neighborhood elementary schools.

The support is critical to the children’s future because kids who can’t read proficiently by third grade are more likely to drop out of high school, said Thomas S. Sayles, USC senior vice president for university relations. “The more children we can reach now, the more students we can ultimately prepare for USC or other top universities.”

Los Angeles resident Araceli Rodriguez first heard about Kinder 2 College when her son Carlos was in kindergarten. She was eager to boost Carlos’ reading and writing skills, but she wasn’t proficient in English, so she enrolled him in the literacy program.

Carlos loves it. The program is fun and keeps him interested, Rodriguez said, because “it is play and work.”

Now a fourth grader, Carlos gets good grades in school and enjoys reading, writing and math, his mom said. The program has built his confidence, and he proudly shares what happens at school and Kinder 2 College with his parents and siblings each night.

Carlos is always excited to go to USC for the program, Rodriguez said. So are her younger son and daughter, who followed Carlos into the program. Their enthusiasm for reading and improved performance in class has prompted Rodriguez to recommend the program to several other parents at 32nd Street Elementary School.

It’s for boys and girls

The program previously focused on boys because boys showed the greatest need for a literacy boost. Now, with the new gift, boys and girls will participate in the program on Saturdays or after school. The children are paired with high school student mentors from USC’s signature college prep program, the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative, or NAI.

“NAI high school students not only help the younger ones improve their reading, but they also become role models for developing study habits that can lead to college,” said Kim Thomas-Barrios, executive director of educational partnerships at USC. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the program inspires a few NAI students to become teachers.”

I want my kids to go to college.

Araceli Rodriguez

University officials envision Kinder 2 College as a pipeline that feeds into NAI, a seven-year program that prepares students in two USC neighborhoods for the academic rigors of college.

NAI graduates are eligible for a full scholarship to USC, provided they meet admission requirements.

Rodriguez said that she likes how the Kinder 2 College program pushes her children to learn and achieve. “I want my kids to go to college,” she said, especially if they can go to USC.

“This generous gift from Pamela Buffett will allow us to help thousands of students who share our neighborhood,” Sayles said. “Together, Kinder 2 College and NAI expand the pool of students eligible to come to USC, and that’s a win for USC and the community.”

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New gift ensures hundreds more L.A. children will embrace reading

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