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WEST VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS

OJAI : Group Helps Minority Youth Prep for College

August 30, 1993|MATTHEW MOSK

When Alma Medina was in high school, her English class had a mandatory trip to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore. Embarrassed to tell her teacher that she could not afford to go, Medina said she had a dentist appointment she couldn't change.

Although the girl was one of only a few underprivileged students at Windward School, a private school in Los Angeles, Medina's teacher recognized the problem and took her aside.

"You won't have to pay for the trip, and we'd love you to come with us. That is," the teacher added with a wink, "assuming you can change your dentist's appointment."

Medina, now 23 and entering her first year of Stanford Law School, told the story to 40 children in Ojai on Friday as part of an orientation for minority students chosen to attend L.A. County's top private schools.

The four-day program was held at the Ojai Valley School, the first school in Ventura to join the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs. The Ojai boarding school may get students from the program in the future.

The L.A.-based, nonprofit group helps place minorities in private schools and attempts to prepare them for the social and academic rigors of a college-preparatory education.

"Our goal is to help kids adapt to a totally new classroom situation," said Manasa Hekymara, the group's executive director.

"We are taking kids from schools that were predominantly black and placing them in classrooms that are predominantly white," she said. "At the same time, they are facing stronger academic challenges."

To help the children, the group follows their progress through high school, periodically holding meetings and seminars to offer advice and guidance. Of the 500 students that have entered the program since 1984, nearly all have attended or plan to attend a four-year college.

"I think the program helps prepare us for what we're going to face," said 12-year-old Stephanie Greene, who will ride a bus for more than an hour every day from Inglewood to Curtis School in Los Angeles next year.

Stephanie's friend, Nadra Nash, who will attend The Oakwood School, added: "It's going to be a challenge, but we're not scared."

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