The hallways just got a little busier at Horace Mann UCLA Community School today.
In its first full year as a UCLA community school, the South Los Angeles campus’s first ninth-grade class arrived this morning. The roughly 50 pioneering ninth graders represent the beginning of Mann UCLA’s expansion from a 6th-through-8th-grade middle school to a middle and high school.
On Tuesday, students with backpacks both new and old bounced up the steps of the historic building. They greeted friends and familiar teachers, and returning students showed new students the way to classrooms.
“It was a really good feeling this morning,” said Christine Shen, director of the UCLA Community Schools Initiative. “A lot of the ninth graders are returning Mann students, and they were really excited to see each other. A couple of parents told me, ‘I can feel the energy, and it’s very different and hopeful.’ A parent of a sixth grader told me he enrolled his son because of UCLA. I was a little emotional. We’ve come a long way in the past year.”
The expansion marks an uplifting reversal of fortune for the school, where competition from neighboring campuses resulted in a dozen straight years of enrollment declines. This year, the student population increased for the first time since 2004, and the school opened with a fully staffed faculty for the first time in at least a decade. Having met their minimum targets, there’s still room to expand this year, and the school will continue outreach to enroll new ninth graders.
With a new grade level and a jump from 315 students last year to approximately 450 on the first day of school this year, the school spent the summer hiring 11 new teachers in math, science, English and Mandarin. Where Horace Mann Middle School once struggled to find job applicants, Mann UCLA Community School had so many interested teachers they couldn’t interview them all, school administration said.
“Because there are no long-term substitute teachers this year, the students will have more of a connection to their teachers,” Shen said. “The teachers are trained to teach in a way that helps the kids make connections between what they are learning about, and how that might apply to a career.”
For the first time, the school has a foreign language teacher. New fundraising efforts aim to bring the students on field trips to community businesses to see how concepts learned in the classroom can be applied to a job. And a Keck Foundation grant will support a college-readiness program to help expand the new college center on the Mann UCLA campus.
Mann UCLA builds upon UCLA’s existing partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District, which first formed the Robert F. Kennedy UCLA Community School in Koreatown in 2009, where the college-acceptance rate has since more than tripled to 99 percent. Now UCLA and LAUSD are working together to develop the South L.A. campus into a neighborhood cornerstone for a rigorous and personalized college-prep education.
As a public school — not a charter or private school — Mann UCLA serves local families. UCLA faculty, staff and students contribute roughly 15,000 hours annually to the campus. Faculty and graduate students from the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies collaborated with Mann UCLA Community School faculty to help design the curriculum and provide support. As of last school year, 53 percent of the school’s students were African-American and 46 percent were Latino. Only 6 percent of the neighborhood’s residents have graduated from college.
A team of teachers, students, parents and UCLA educators began meeting in 2015 to design the new school, develop relationships, provide resources and build a long-term commitment. Starting in spring 2016, UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies began partnering with Mann to offer enrichment programs before and after school, including free seven-week summer institutes. Two years later, early indicators show improvements at the school: 87 percent of boys passed math in 2016 compared to 49 percent in 2015; 78 percent of students in 2016 reported using a computer in class weekly; and 29 percent more students reported feeling safe at school in 2016 than in 2014.