Alum Rock charter school broadens aspirations

Photo By: Traci newell/Town Crier
Photo Traci Newell/Town Crier

Javier Hernandez, a seventh-grade student at Downtown College Prep Alum Rock, uses Khan Academy resources during math class.

For students new to DCP Alum Rock, a charter school in San Jose, the sense of community is striking.

“Here is my family,” said seventh-grader Pedro Castillo. “It’s a second home. I spend eight hours a day here, sometimes more than I sleep. This school is different – it has a community. There are always people who will watch your back and teachers will actually help you.”

The Downtown College Prep program, which includes a high school campus near downtown San Jose, began as an alternative for students in low-income and predominantly Latino neighborhoods. Its model for education includes helping students reach their grade level and beyond in math and reading and preparing families for their student’s journey to college.

Currently in its second year, DCP Alum Rock serves slightly fewer than 300 sixth- through eighth-graders within the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District. The Downtown College Prep model prepares underachieving students to thrive at four-year universities. The school plans to expand through 12th grade eventually.

“I like DCP a lot because they help you focus and they don’t let you go off course,” said Mikilynna Taufete’e, the eighth-grade student council treasurer. “I went to a public school, and it is really different because people there only give you a textbook. Here they cover all learning styles – hearing, seeing and hands-on.”

The school uses any tools necessary to reach all students. Teachers are armed with a host of technology programs, including Khan Academy, to engage students and track individual progress in math and language arts.

Los Altos Town Crier Holiday Fund money enabled the school to acquire additional updated tools for the curriculum last year. The academic results for students have been climbing, Principal David Herrera said.

“Any way you analyze the data, our students had double-digit growth in math and language arts since last year,” Herrera said.

This year the school’s largest need is to upgrade the technology associated with the school’s college lab.

“We are developing pathways so we can start communicating with our eighth- grade families about their student’s college trajectory,” said Jennifer Andaluz, DCP founder and executive director. “Each student and family is going to have their own personalized path to college plan.”

Herrera said the school focuses on helping students achieve a 3.0 grade-point average – a “magic” number that increases the likelihood of acceptance at a California State University and increases the possibility of financial aid. DCP opens a college savings fund, the College 3.0 Scholarship Fund, for students earning a 3.0 GPA or higher. Students can use the money when they transition from high school to college.

Holiday Fund money this year will also enable the school to purchase technology that can prepare students and families for college.

“This is a real school dealing with real children and the real complicated issues that young adults and families in poverty face,” Andaluz said. “We feel this school is a vehicle for giving kids that chance so they can reconceive their future.”

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