Local Aspire schools receive $1M from Oprah

September 20, 2010 6:02:58 PM PDT
Many viewers who watched Oprah on Monday saw she gave $1 million to Aspire Public Schools. It is the California non-profit that runs 30 charter schools for mostly low-income students, including several in the Bay Area.

Aspire is one of six public school systems to receive $1 million from Oprah. The money came from Oprah's Angel Network which is no longer accepting donations.

Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland will benefit from the money, but they will have to share the $1 million with 29 other charter schools, run by Aspire.

Lionel Wilson Preparatory outperforms all high schools in Oakland with more than 100 students; it serves predominantly low income students -- 95 percent of them are Latino.

There are a few things that sets them apart, such as quizzes that are given every day to make sure students understand the lesson. If they don't, the teacher goes over the material again.

"And these teachers will stay after school and they will help us and it shows that they care and we can make a difference," said student Celia Magana.

This school has an advisory program. One teacher supervises 15 students to make sure they are on track academically. That teacher stays with them until they graduate.

"And I'm responsible, I kind of an onsite adult to monitor all their academic and behavioral performance," said teacher James Robertson.

Every student graduates from high school and nearly all go on to college.

Student Alfredo Montes will be the first in his family to go to college.

"I think they thought it was a good opportunity to me, they just want me to succeed, do better than them," said Montes.

Lionel Wilson Preparatory is one of six schools in Oakland run by Aspire - a public school system featured on Oprah because of its high quality schools. For that, Aspire received $1 million.

Another school system being recognized is Summit Preparatory Charter School in Redwood City, which is among the top in the nation.

Students get in through a lottery system. For parents like Ann Jones it was an important moment in her daughter's education.

"I was terrified until we found out that she actually got in. Then I was ecstatic," said Ann.

The school is small and she knows her daughter Emily will not fall through the cracks.

"Summit pushes you to do a lot more things. They push you past your comfort level which makes you accelerate at your work," said Emily.

Emily and Ann were featured in the documentary "Waiting for Superman" which will be released this Friday. The film is one everyone is talking about since it focuses on America's failing education system and how winning a spot at one of these schools is, for some families, like winning the lottery.


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