EMERGE students help Eastwood Academy classmates excel

Last year, a pair of juniors in the EMERGE program at Eastwood Academy had a thought: EMERGE prepares high-performing students from underserved communities to successfully attend and graduate from Ivy League and other top-tier colleges. Maybe EMERGE students could volunteer to help other students study? And with that spark of inspiration, Students With Academic Grit – or SWAG – was born.

As the brainchild of SWAG Society President Juanita Parra and some of her fellow EMERGE classmates, SWAG’s strategy is simple – help for students by students.

Every Monday, SWAG Society mentors can be found at Eastwood helping other students with SAT and ACT prep, AP review, public speaking, study skills, reading, writing, mathematics, and various other subjects. A typical SWAG get-together starts off with a Toastmasters-style speech presentation, followed by comment and discussion. Then groups break off by subject matter for more focused study. There are trips to college campuses, basketball games and other outings to break the intensity of studying.

“Not only do we get to give back to the community, but we get to affect students outside Eastwood,” said Parra, who hopes to attend Georgetown University and major in international business or finance. “We want everyone to succeed regardless of their (previous) grades.”

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Under the watchful eye of co-sponsors Shiroy Aspandiar and Karthik Soora, the program has an application process that includes essays and personal statements and factors in concrete metrics like PSAT scores. This allows the SWAG group to see the circumstances by which students might have fallen behind in their class work and how they can help. With 15 mentors, each with core subject strengths, SWAG is currently helping about 60 students prepare for a promising future.

Parra, Soora and the rest of the team hope what they’ve done with SWAG Society at Eastwood will spread outside the boundaries of their group.

“The point is to create the same access to the same opportunities as EMERGE students have,” said Soora. “All students should have opportunities.”