For the first few years of his life, Ricardo Ramiro Jr. struggled to speak. It hindered his academic development, and he was bullied, making him feel isolated.
“He struggled a lot speaking and writing,” said Blanca Ramiro, his mother. “I was told he wasn’t going to be able to speak much.”
Frustrated, she switched him to a different school, where she became a volunteer teacher’s assistant to help with his progress.
A combination of aggressive speech therapy and support from his mother and his father, Ricardo Ramiro Sr., helped Ricky Jr. catch up and eventually surpass his peers. Overcoming this early challenge strengthened the family’s drive to ensure their kids went to college.
Thanks in part to the USC Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a unique and rigorous college preparatory program, the roadway to higher education for Ricky Jr. was laid before them, the bricks on the path cemented by hard work and sacrifice.
The college preparatory program requires attendance at Saturday Academy. The young scholars take classes and additional tutoring sessions at USC. Parents also attend workshops on campus. NAI’s Family Development Institute is designed to help them support their children by offering workshops on topics such as how to apply to college and for financial aid.
A chance at higher education: USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative
It was a lot to juggle for the family, but it was worth it to give their children a life enriched by higher education, according to the Ramiros. Although they knew admission to USC wasn’t guaranteed, they were determined to achieve something both had been denied: a chance at higher education.
Ricardo Ramiro Sr., the oldest of four boys, had hoped to go to college, but was thrust into the role as head of the household because he had to work to support the family. He went to trade school, earning a certificate from a heating, ventilation and air conditioning program. That jump-started his career with Los Angeles County’s Public Works Department.
“There’s nothing wrong with trade school,” he said. “It got me the job and the house. I didn’t have a choice to go to a four-year university. I wanted to give [my children] every chance to have that choice.”
Blanca Ramiro, meanwhile, worked several jobs before leaving the workforce to focus on the kids. Besides volunteering at their schools, she took Ricky Jr. and his sister, Esmeralda, to and from various activities. Together, mom and dad made sure Ricky Jr. attended his required courses to complete the NAI program.
“We understood that it wasn’t a 100% guarantee that [he] would get into USC,” Blanca Ramiro said, but the family took it as a challenge. “I said to myself: My son is going to that program, and he will go to USC.”
That also meant missing family gatherings because of the program’s strict attendance requirements. “I missed many important family events with my family,” she said, including the weddings of her brothers. But “I always said education comes first. You need to study hard to get to college.”
Ricky Jr. had to learn time management and priorities earlier than most kids. He ran track and played basketball, football and volleyball at the varsity level in high school.
“We had to miss a lot of games due to Saturday Academy,” Ricky Jr. said. “School is first.”
Neighborhood Academic Initiative pays off: 43 scholars accepted into USC
The hard work paid off; Ricky Jr. was one of 43 USC NAI scholars accepted into USC this year.
When Ricardo Ramiro Sr. received that news in a text from his wife, he broke down and cried. “I couldn’t hold it in,” he said.
There was one more challenge for the Ramiros. Ricky Jr. received multiple acceptance letters and was entertaining offers from University of California, San Diego, and the University of California, Berkeley.
In the end, the opportunity to pursue a degree at USC Viterbi School of Engineering and receive a world-class education close to home was too hard to pass up.
“I feel grateful for [the] support,” Ricky Jr. said. “I’m glad they signed me up for the program. It was a lot of work. We gave up summer vacations. We sacrificed a lot of things — it was worth it.”