The photo on Jennifer Andaluz’s phone shows four teenage girls smiling confidently in front of Columbia University after winning a national engineering competition.

If statistics are to be believed, none of the girls—all from low-income, minority families—would likely attend a university like Columbia. But Andaluz doesn’t believe in those kinds of predictions. In fact, a San Jose charter school network she cofounded 16 years ago called Downtown College Prep (DCP) is intended to disrupt that kind of data.

The DCP program, designed for middle and high school students from low-income backgrounds, has seen 96 percent of its graduates go on to college. Almost 90 percent persist in college after two years and 58 percent finish a four-year degree, Andaluz reports.

The national rate for low-income college students getting a four-year degree is 10 percent.

“The first thing we do at DCP is believe our kids can do amazing things,” says Andaluz, a former teacher who founded the school after seeing kids being graduated without the academic skills needed for college.

“Then,” she says, “that belief is backed up by high-quality instruction and college knowledge, the stepping stones kids need to succeed.”

Reading and math skills are emphasized. Students are taken on visits to college campuses. Scholarships are arranged.

Today, the school that started in the hall of a Methodist church has four campuses, 1,500 students, and a budget of $18 million.

“My call to action was to go into communities where kids don’t have the same opportunities as wealthy communities,” Andaluz, 44, says. “College was such a transformative experience in my own life, I knew I wanted to be someone who stimulated that aspiration in other people’s lives.”

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