Above: Local District West Superintendent Cheryl Hildreth presents Middle College High School graduate Diana Monterrosa with her associate’s degree two weeks before she receives her high school diploma.

From left, Local District West Administrator of Instruction Darnise Williams, Superintendent Cheryl Hildreth, Middle College Principal Betty Washington, Southwest College President Debra Noldon and School Board Vice President George J. McKenna III celebrate the dual graduation of Middle College High students.

Students, faculty and leaders from Local District West recently celebrated two milestones in the continuing effort to build bridges for students to higher education.

Last Friday, 32 seniors and two juniors from Middle College High School were awarded associate’s degrees under a partnership with L.A. Southwest College – which shares its campus – allowing them to take college-level courses while earning their high school diploma.

“I’ve never met anyone who received an A.A. degree before even finishing high school,” said School Board Vice President Dr.George J. McKenna III, whose district includes Middle College High. “This just shows our students are accomplishing things that we couldn’t even imagine before.”

McKenna reflected on his involvement in creating the partnership between L.A. Unified and Southwest College.

“As educators, our job is to point the way,” he said. “What matters is whether the students are willing to do what it takes to go on that journey. I am just so impressed with how well these particular students have taken advantage of this opportunity.”

The Middle College students were awarded their degrees by Local District West Superintendent Cheryl Hildreth and Southwest College President Dr. Denise Noldon. The District plans to replicate the successful program with other L.A. Unified high schools and colleges.

Dorsey High junior Malik Morris-Perry encourages his classmates to seize all of the opportunities before them.

On Tuesday, dozens of students attended a ceremony at Charles Drew University, where District and university officials signed a commitment to grant priority admission to qualifying graduates from Local District West schools. The program is designed to increase local access to quality higher education in southwest and central areas of Los Angeles.

Drew University, one of three medical schools in the nation attended predominantly by African-American students, aims to increase undergraduate enrollment.

“This is about promise, hope and the future,” Hildreth said. “This is a first – not only for us, but also for this university. It’s an important step toward increasing opportunities for inner-city students to pursue STEM fields starting right here in their own community. It’s a step toward changing belief systems about what these students are really capable of doing and helping them do it.”

Hildreth’s message was well received by Dorsey High School junior Malik Morris-Perry, who spoke at the ceremony.

“We need to take this door that has been opened for us and use it as a platform to succeed,” he said. “I encourage all students to stand on this platform, walk on this platform and use it as a path forward to be the best they can be. The future lies in our hands.”

School Board President Steve Zimmer said the significance of the agreement goes beyond pathways to universities.

“We’re talking about changing health care in America,” he said. “These students here could be the ones who – five or 10 years from now – are summoning a combination of science, technology, training and compassion to serve a public in need of their care. It is their rightful place at this university, and it could be their rightful place in a career in medicine.”