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RealityChangers

Reality Changers students celebrate completing their for-credit college courses at Academic Connections, UC San Diego’s summer program for high achieving high school students.
Photo: Reality Changers

Barbara Davenport’s book, Grit and Hope (University of California Press, 2016) takes the reader inside Reality Changers, the country’s most effective college readiness program, where 94 percent of its graduates go on to college. Founded  in 2001 with four eighth graders, Reality Changers now serves 500 students a year in San Diego County. Graduates study at all nine University of California undergraduate campuses, 15 Cal State campuses, and at Duke and Dartmouth, at Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Chicago. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan calls Reality Changers “absolutely a model, not for the city, not for the state, but for the country.”

Davenport followed Reality Changers over five years, with full access to the program, to founder Christopher Yanov, and to the determined and courageous students whose stories are the heart of this book. Their stories offer an intimate look at the withering prejudice, family problems and academic challenges they must overcome to rise from America’s underclass. In interviews with students, parents, and program staff, she explores what drives students to achieve beyond their expectations, and also examines the costs of their dreams. Portraits of students give a human face to two of the most vexing questions facing the country: immigration and inequality. Several students she profiles are undocumented, and she shows the additional challenges they face, first in getting to college, then in building a life of productive work and giving back to the country they love.

Grit and Hope will be a must-read for everyone who gets it that their own community and the country are stronger when all youth have the opportunity to excel and the support to help them do it. Teachers and school administrators, workers, managers, and board members in non-profits will recognize their own experience with students who are working to launch themselves into a better life. Grit and Hope is published by the University of California Press and is in bookstores and online.

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