The Making Waves Difference in Student Success

June 6, 2016

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If you think fifth grade is too early to start thinking about college, think again! Making Waves Academy (MWA) in Richmond is committed to rigorously and holistically preparing students to gain acceptance to and graduate from college to ultimately become valuable contributors to the workforce and their communities. MWA has been met with tremendous success, in part because its students are thinking about college before even starting a high school class.

Bay Area residents John Scully and Rev. Eugene Farlough started Making Waves in 1989 as an after-school program. Their vision was that young people from Richmond would attend college, graduate, and be active and contributing members of their communities. At its founding, Richmond was and continues to be one of the most educationally underserved communities in the country. Today, the spirit of this initial inspiration, idea, and commitment remains the same at Making Waves Academy: to help young achieve their hopes and dreams.

The school opened in 2007 to 100 "Wave-Makers" as its first fifth grade class. Those students - Wave 12 - graduated in June 2015. 100% of its graduates are now completing their first year of either a two-year or four-year college. Examples of colleges attended include Columbia University, Macalester College, Cal Berkeley, UCLA, and Contra Costa College.

This year's graduating class, the 13th Wave, includes Patricia Ornelas who was chosen as a Gates Millennium Scholar out of 53,000 national applicants. Ornelas is involved in student leadership and serves as vice president of the student body. While at MWA, Patty also started a computer coding club. She plans to study Computer Science at Tufts University in the Greater Boston area this fall and pursue using technology as a tool for social justice.

"Teachers at MWA have high expectations for students and want to see the best in them," said Ornelas. "They've made the biggest impact on my path to becoming a Gates Millennium Scholar."

Ornelas believes her experiences at the school resulted in her interest in Computer Science. "My favorite experience at Making Waves was when I was given the opportunity to network with people who have careers as software engineers," said Ornelas. "I want to pursue a career in software engineering, so it is helpful to get to know more software engineers. I talked to someone who works at Adobe, someone who works at Google, and some people who work for an app startup. Making Waves arranged this Career Day ... where the representatives for each company sat behind a table and anyone could come up to ask them questions."

The Making Waves Difference
From the school's name to classroom instruction, everything about Making Waves is part of a greater purpose and vision. Calling students Wave-Makers is intentional so that students see themselves as making a difference; their energy and momentum is emblematic of the wave image. The school currently serves grades fifth through 12th, with approximately 112 students per grade "wave."

"Among each wave, there is a unique personality that defines the group," said Ornelas. "As a result of being together for the long journey of eight years, the students in each wave unite. We find comfort in knowing that the people around us are striving for the same ambitious goals of going to college and contributing to the community."

Beyond the Waves
When a Wave-Maker graduates from Making Waves, they are not saying goodbye to the school for good. In fact, it's just the opposite. Graduates enter Making Waves College and Alumni Program (CAP) where every student is matched with a professional coach to help them navigate college. They receive help completing financial aid forms and are taught the importance of debt management. Coaches also regularly check in with students to make sure students stay on track academically.

The leadership and teachers at Making Waves Academy realize there is much more work to be done in the Richmond community and a need for more seats to serve the student community. Making Waves plans to expand significantly over the next 10 years, with the goal of growing the upper school as much as two to three times its current enrollment. Along with this expansion includes a plan to increase the size of the middle school, which is crucial since that serves as the entry point into the community.

"The ticket to the American Dream, civic engagement and community stewardship is through education," said Alton Nelson, Jr., Making Waves Academy CEO. "While we live in a time when a very small minority of entrepreneurs have been able to start successful businesses and companies, the majority still need the exposure and training that will keep the windows of opportunity open to them through a rigorous, high-quality education."