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High school founded by Stanford grads for first-gen college students enters 24th year

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In 1996, Chris Bischof ’92 M.A. ’93 and Helen Kim ’92 M.A. ’93, founded Eastside College Preparatory School, a private high school for students who will be the first in their family to go to college.

Since then, the school has provided guidance and support for East Palo Alto students who are the first in their families to attend college, and every graduate of Eastside has gone on to attend a four-year college.

“A group of us were very concerned with the alarming high school dropout rate in the community,” wrote Bischof, who is also Eastside’s principal, in an email to The Daily. “We believed that students from our community could be just as successful as any other student given the right support and set of opportunities.”

Eastside works to provide extra guidance for its students, something easily achieved by the relatively small size of the school. This ensures that peer-to-peer and peer-to-teacher relationships are solid, according to English teacher Cal Trembath, who has been at Eastside for eight years. Applications for the school are open to any first-generation student in the area.

“I came to visit the school, and I just immediately fell in love,” Trembath said. “I got to see a couple classes and meet a lot of teachers, and the quality of the instruction, the student culture, the academic support, the relationships between adults and students … even in a [short] visit it was really, really evident that this was a very special place.”

In order to support students who may have no prior knowledge of the college admissions process, Eastside has tailored its curriculum to include a few extra classes. Students are required to take a three-year college readiness series to help them with the difficult task of applying to and preparing for college. In sophomore year, they take Composition and Argumentation; in junior year, they take Writing for College; and they round off their senior year with the Senior College Prep Class. This model allows them to gain the skills necessary for writing college essays and taking standardized tests such as the SAT, according to Bischof.

“Our school model is based on helping first-generation students become the first in their families to attend college,” Bischof wrote. “It starts with setting very high expectations and then providing lots of support so our students can meet those expectations.”

Eastside also offers an alumni program to provide guidance to students who have graduated. Career coaches help alumni pick career paths, build professional relationships and search for jobs.

“Eastside’s mission is to help students not only receive a high school education but help them be the first in their generation to attend college and graduate,” wrote Student Services Coordinator Karla Garcia in an email to The Daily. “For that reason, while our main focus is the high school, another integral department is our alumni team, as they help our graduates navigate through college.”

Eastside has more than 700 alumni who are either in college, graduate school or a profession. By keeping track of its alumni, Eastside is better able to understand the needs of its current students and assist them in embarking on their professional lives.

“Some of my favorite interactions are with our alums,” Trembath said. “It is always really, really special to be able to see people that I knew as freshmen or sophomores who are now really adults and going off and doing amazing things.”

The relationships that Eastside fosters also helps the students. Many of them lack mentors who can offer guidance through the difficult process of applying to college. 

“This place, maybe more than other schools, is built on relationships,” Trembath wrote. “In terms of what sets this school apart, I think it’s the quality and depth of the relationships that you see all over the campus.”

It’s not just the students who learn from the adults at Eastside. The collaborative culture extends both ways, which is what, in the end, makes Eastside stand out, according to Garcia.

“There are two lessons that I think are some of the most valuable lessons that I see each day through the students,” Garcia wrote in an email to The Daily. “Don’t give up. Whatever the obstacles might be, keep pushing through. And, don’t be afraid to ask for help. They hold true as a student but inspire me as an adult.”

Contact Anahita Srinivasan at srinivasan.anahita ‘at’ gmail.com.