High school chemistry teacher and USC alumna Alex Rios ’11 was thrilled to receive a $1,000 school district grant to use any way she pleased for students at Edison High School in San Antonio. Rather than buy school supplies or plan a special lab project, Rios decided to take her students, 80 percent of whom had never traveled outside of Texas, on a trip to their dream school — USC.
“About 90 percent of the students at Edison High School are economically disadvantaged, and nobody in their families has gone to college,” Rios said. “As I was planning this trip, I realized that a lot of my students have really big dreams. They have dreams of leaving San Antonio. If you ask any of them where they want to go to college, all of them will tell you California. That’s their dream.”
After graduating from USC, Rios began working with Teach for America and was assigned to work at Edison for two years. Now in her second year at the school, she said her goal is to empower her students and help them be the kind who get accepted to USC. Her motto in the classroom is “Fight On,” something she learned to do as a USC student.
“To them, ‘fight on’ means persevere when their family has no money for food, clothes or school supplies; ‘fight on’ means work long hours at an after-school job to help pay the bills; ‘fight on’ means strive for your dreams, even when no one in or outside of your community seems to believe in you. For almost a year, these students have drawn strength from ‘fight on,’ ” Rios said.
To get to USC, the students had to raise $17,000, which prompted Rios to call on the San Antonio community for help. Edison High School alumni made sizable contributions, local businesses donated money and restaurants donated food items for the students’ sales of dinner plates. Eventually, they had enough money to make the trip to Los Angeles.
In early November, 20 Edison students arrived at USC, where they were welcomed by a number of departments on the University Park Campus. Michael L. Jackson, vice president for Student Affairs, helped them realize their dream of eating in a college dining hall by sponsoring their lunch. Visions and Voices and USC Bookstores donated items so the students could take USC memories home with them, and the Athletics Department allowed them to watch a varsity football practice.
Abe Markowitz ’12, a USC football offensive lineman, called on former and current student athletes to host a panel discussion in the Heritage Hall auditorium to inspire the students.
“I came to USC as a walk-on, but I worked hard and earned a scholarship, and all of you are capable of doing the same thing,” said Markowitz, who earned a bachelor’s degree in urban planning from the USC Price School of Public Policy and is now working on a Master of Arts in teaching at the USC Rossier School of Education.
The students asked how he balances sports and academics. “It’s tough,” he replied. “There are definitely some late nights writing papers and some early morning practices, but your academics are important because football doesn’t last forever.”
Former USC football team captain Christian Tupou ’10 told the students that having a goal to attend college is only the first step. “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” said Tupou, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and is now working toward a master of communication management at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Edison sophomore and athlete Joseph Ortiz was thrilled at the chance to meet college athletes and hopes to someday be among them.
“I’ve never been out of state before and I’ve never been to a big university, so all of this [was] a big adventure for me. I enjoyed everything,” he said. “But the talk with the athletes really helped me to understand that it’s my job to motivate myself and keep going and never give up.
After spending a day touring the campus, going to mock lectures and window-shopping at the bookstore, Rios prepared the students for their flight home.
“I’m hoping that they realize the sky is the limit. If they really put their minds to their goals, they can make anything happen,” she said. “If their goal is to go to USC or a high-caliber university, they can be successful there — not just get in.”
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