Downtown College Prep: 95% of Students Enroll in College

April 15, 2016

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As the first-ever charter public school in Santa Clara County, educators at Downtown College Prep (DCP) believe every student deserves a college education. The San Jose-based charter operates four schools serving grades 6 through 12. Comprised of predominantly low-income, first-generation students to be college-bound, the primary objective of the school is to connect with students as early as possible to foster a nurturing, community-based, rigorous environment that focuses on personal and academic achievement.

The proof-points tell DCP's success story--95% of students enroll in college after high school and 10% return to DCP to serve as faculty and staff.

What sets DCP apart is its singular focus on preparing students for college as early as possible. DCP starts this commitment as early as middle school where often times, students can feel lost and unmotivated. Many DCP middle school students attend the school because their goal is to attend college, but may not know how to go about doing so. They want a small school environment to help them accomplish that goal. Faculty members partner with each student to forge a personalized life path that integrates college and career.

Innovation Drives Success
DCP's teachers offer innovative and alternative methods of learning through tactile creation and experience, which leads to students feeling motivated, inspired and gives them exposure to diverse academic fields. Staff introduce creative ideas, which are woven into the curriculum, breathing new life into old tactics. For example, a high school teacher at DCP El Primero High School developed an urban farm, which is managed by senior students in the Environmental Science classes. From growing produce for sale at their monthly farm stand to feeding chickens and managing the land, students who are exposed to an urban environment understand the importance of building from the ground up.

Many of the students are participating in urban farming for the first time. Often, the students live in apartments without access to green space. DCP students are not only learning, but also experiencing something new and significant for the first time. They connect their learning to cultivation and creation.

Another high school teacher at DCP Alum Rock High School introduced students to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) by having them participate, and ultimately win, a national competition through Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow contest. Such was the buzz and excitement generated through this Intro to Engineering course and its outside-of -class engagement, that 40% of students are now enrolled in at least one engineering class on campus.

Across the campuses, students are taking courses ranging from Ethnic Studies and Latin American History, to Intro to Coding and Theater.

A Campus That Focuses on Compassion, Community and Care
At DCP, students cannot fall through the cracks. Faculty and teachers make a dedicated investment to be present in students' lives, and that compassion and care is at the core of the DCP campuses. Parents feel as if their children are safe and cared for.

Former DCP students like Luis Falcon are beacons of hope for current students and an example of how DCP's values prove beneficial. After years of discouragement and exposure to gang violence, Alcon almost lost his way. Everything about DCP's mission came alive in Alcon. After graduating high school and working temporarily in a factory, he enrolled in San Jose City College, transferred to the University of California, Santa Cruz on scholarship, and is now a vested middle school teacher at DCP. He went from being a 2.1 GPA high school student to a 3.6 GPA college student, becoming the first in his entire family to graduate from college.

Alcon's story is significant because it represents how hard it can be to break from environmental and social mindsets and pressures, and how connection to hope and personal achievement are powerful and transformative. It's also a story that demonstrates the circuitous nature of DCP's principles--how compassion, community and care make an indelible mark on student lives, and how every student has the potential to succeed.

That path to success can look many different ways and have many twists and turns. But ultimately by building deep relationships between students, staff and families over several years, the DCP community has seen time and again that its students have what it takes to succeed and the drive to make it happen.