Above, Isabella Salano takes in the L.A. skyline from the roof of the Dream Center, where she lives with her mother and siblings.
The goal of L.A. Unified is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to graduate prepared for college, career and life. As we near the end of the school year, we are featuring stories about some of the outstanding members of the Class of 2017.
It’s just after 4 a.m. – hours before her classmates will hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks – but Isabella Salano is already awake and preparing for her commute from the Dream Center in Echo Park to Taft Charter High School in Woodland Hills.
After leaving the single room she shares with her mom and four younger siblings, it takes Salano two hours by bus and subway to get to school. Once there, she faces a rigorous day – her schedule includes Advanced Placement calculus, biology and literature classes – and hours of hard work to maintain her 3.8 grade-point average.
“Going to school and getting an education is a privilege,” Salano said. “I am not going to squander it.”
Her ability to make the best of any situation – to appreciate rather than begrudge – is one that has helped Salano overcome many hurdles in her life.
A bright youngster who could read and write at age 2, she grew up in a turbulent household in Nashville, Tenn., where her father’s alcoholism kept the family in poverty. After he was arrested on domestic abuse charges, Salano’s mother moved with her kids to be near relatives in Southern California. They stayed for a while with various relatives and friends and eventually secured a room in the Dream Center, a transitional housing facility that operates in the former Queen of Angels Hospital overlooking the Hollywood Freeway. By then, Salano was thriving at Taft, and she decided she would do whatever it took to remain there.
“Isabella is a remarkable, resilient and inspiring young woman who has overcome great obstacles with a positive outlook on life, where she turns nearly every negative into a positive,” said Taft Principal Daniel Steiner. “With her positive approach to life, she can move mountains. I am certain she will make a difference in our world.”
Although there’s a strict curfew at the Dream Center and little space to call her own, Salano again looks for the silver lining. She’s active in a church that is affiliated with the center and has had the opportunity to work with special-needs children. Most importantly, it offers stability for Salano and her family and a place where she can pursue her love of learning. She writes and sketches, studies Japanese poetry, creates beautiful calligraphy and plays the guitar. She is also a voracious reader, devouring everything from English literature to Jonathan Safram Foer novels.
“Throughout this journey, I’ve learned to be grateful for every opportunity and blessing that comes my way,” she wrote in her essay.
She will be attending Valley College in the fall, a decision made easy thanks to College Promise, a new initiative that provides District graduates with priority admission and a year’s free tuition to Los Angeles Community College campuses. She plans to eventually transfer to the University of California and pursue a career in biomedical engineering.
“We can choose to give harsh conditions the power to control and consume us, or we can choose to be thankful for the little blessings that come with them,” Salano wrote. “I have learned from personal experience that greeting adversity with an open mind and a thankful heart reaps far better results than being resentful and bitter when faced with difficult situations.”