My idea to start this organization was born when I realized that our incredibly talented students at Johnnie Cochran Middle School should have the opportunity to attend top private schools in Los Angeles...
Sara Hernandez, a true visionary and an amazing teacher at Johnnie Cochran Middle School, had the revolutionary idea that the most talented and brightest students should apply to private high schools where they can be challenged by the rigors of the advanced programs offered to these bright young stars. To this end, Sara found organizations that supported this effort and recruited interested kids in what she suspected would be a daunting task. Initially she pioneered this effort alone, spending countless hours of her personal time to tutor, mentor, and assist students with the meticulous and overwhelming private school application process. In time, however, she put together a winning team: our students and their equally brilliant teachers, and parents, all of whom spent countless hours working together to expedite the process and assist our young stars to finalize the application effort. There was still so much that needed to get done: tutoring for placement tests, coaching for school interviews, and filling out endless paperwork. But these logistics were just one part of the obstacle. Our young stars also had numerous financial hurdles to overcome. The students needed health insurance, interview clothes, books, and additional materials and supplies to get them through the private school admission process.
I realized that to be able to academically, emotionally, and financially support these and future students with the private school admission process, our six-member teacher team could not possibly carry this task alone. As we soon realized just getting the kids through the admission process was not enough. As the lower socio-economic children are thrust into a new environment of the affluent and academically rich private school, they continue to require outside support to thrive and excel. They need tutoring, funding for books and school activities, even simple things that we all take for granted like school clothes are hard to come by for these kids. And this is when I realized that we need an organization that will provide everything that these young stars will need to thrive and achieve during the next four years of their private school journey.
My story is simple. I am an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. Like many immigrants, my family came here, to America the land of opportunity, with nothing. We came here to pursue the all American dream, as we grew up believing that America is the last place on earth where if you work hard you can become something, you can make a difference, the last place on earth where you are not limited by the race you were born into or the caste from which your family hails. Although we had little money while my brother and I were growing up, my mother always made sure that we, no-matter how many fights she had with my father over money, had everything we needed. It wasn’t that she spoiled us, she did not want our grades and our self-image to suffer, she wanted us to feel good about ourselves and she felt that we should not have to feel shame or explain to anyone why we don’t have the “in” sneakers, or why we can’t do what other kids could because of financial burdens. We didn’t always have the resources that other kids had, but my mother wanted us to be academically, socially and financially on-level with our peers. My parents worked relentlessly to provide for us. I feel as though we need to do the same for these students. Thus was the motivation for ISSS.