Rigo Estrada

When his grades dropped at his prior high school, Rigo Estrada was never offered any encouragement. He was told that if his grades did not improve, he would be plucked from the school. “What was the point of trying to get to college,” he thought, “if I could not afford to go to the university I applied to?”

Then he enrolled at Environmental Charter High School, and found a place where he could blossom and grow as a student. “It was very different from what I was used to,” says Rigo, who found in it a school of “fewer than 400 students where everyone was friends with each other and wanted to succeed.”

ECS is a network of free public K-12 schools in underserved communities of south Los Angeles that prepare students for 4-year colleges through a focus on experiential learning and by using the environment as a way to both engage students in project based learning and prepare them to become leaders in their communities.

ECHS, with its project-based curriculum, was a radically different place for him. At times he still wanted to give up, because the school was so challenging to him. “But I knew it was preparing me for the bigger picture—college. I went from a student with failing grades, bouncing from school to school, to a student who actually tries in school, applying my skills and talents in ways that affect the world around me.”

Within a year of writing these words, he was accepted to three California State University colleges.