Picture of Eduardo in front of a white board teaching to an elementary classCommunity Connections – Eduardo Lopez

Introducing Yvonne Hernandez and Eduardo Lopez, first gen students and NAI scholars, from South Central and teaching in South Central. This is their story. – Originally Published April 1, 2020

As a South Central native, I understand exactly what it’s like being a student in LAUSD. I attended Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary School from PreK-5th grade. Weemes Elementary School is a school just down the street from USC that has a partnership with the JEP program. Although my teachers at Weemes tried their best to expose me to as many activities as they could, the limited financial resources constrained what they could teach me. Mr. Abelson, a teacher who had many connections with JEP, was one of the few teachers who expanded my thirst for science. I vividly remember our earth sciences lab in my 4th-grade class. Mr. Abelson let us conduct our own erosion lab using dirt, water, and an aluminum tray. I didn’t realize it until recently that these creative, unique, and cost-efficient activities were all made possible because of the JEP programming. These activities are crucial towards increasing the interest of students, like me, in other activities besides the district implemented curriculum.

Additionally, NAI was another program that sparked an additional desire for learning. NAI offered SAT prep, math tutoring, and even science on Saturdays to help increase our desire for learning. I took full advantage of everything NAI had to offer.

 Without JEP or NAI, my dreams of becoming a STEM professional would have never crossed my mind. Both of these programs introduced my young mind to different methods of learning and thinking. These methods eventually allowed me to continue my education at USC while also simultaneously giving back to both these programs so that the next generation of students can develop a desire for learning STEM.

After culminating from Weemes, I attended Foshay Learning Center from the 6th-12th grade. At the end of the 6th grade, I was offered admission to the Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program. I accepted the offer and officially started the NAI program in the 7th grade, a decision that to this day I am so glad I made. NAI provided an extra boost that I would need when I would one day attend college–specifically USC. I admit that I did struggle in my STEM classes, but NAI taught me to not give up and to reach out for help when I needed it.

I wasn’t the only member of my family to attend Weemes. Since 1997, all six of my siblings have attended or are currently attending the school; my little sister is in the 3rd grade with Mr. Brennan. Weemes always offered as many learning experiences as they could and my siblings and I are fortunate enough to have experienced JEP. USC’s involvement with Weemes is the main reason why my mom decided to send my siblings and me to the school. From a personal level, I enjoyed having USC students come and work with my class when I was a little kid. I never understood why students would come to my school to work with me. But as I got older I understood that LAUSD didn’t have enough resources to immerse their students in a multitude of programs.

Through my own experiences and the experiences of my family and peers, I see the desire to learn from many students. I know that the students want more than theLAUSD and their teachers can offer and I am lucky enough to be able to help fill that gap through JEP. I started in the Medical STEM Program (MSP)  during the fall of my freshman year. I was finally behind the scenes, bringing more learning experiences to the students with my co-teacher, Yvonne Hernandez. We were there to support each other until we each had our own classrooms in the spring of 2020. I loved being able to teach the students our MSP curriculum that encompasses both normal organ functions and what goes wrong in the context of cancer. MSP had the full attention and participation of the students. Every student loved being able to work with each other during hand-on activities. This is one of the reasons why I love and appreciate the JEP programs. JEP allows students to take risks in their activities and it gets them out of their comfort zones. Even students who have no understanding of the English language are included in these activities. Being fluent in both English and Spanish allows me to work with students who recently migrated to the US from Latin America.  I also love walking around the students and assuring them that I’m here to help them grow and gain an interest in STEM. JEP’s STEM programs allow students to see what they like and don’t like. By teaching Mrs. Robles’s class, I potentially got some students thinking from a medical perspective. Who knows, maybe in 30 years these same students could be oncologists and finding the cure to cancer. JEP is a wonderful program that I am proud to be a part of. I know that JEP is a program that is intended for student growth and development because I partook in the program as an elementary student and I am now a freshman at USC studying human biology on a pre-med track.

A collections of photos of Yvonne and Eduardo together from High School to the time the article was written