Pilipino Recruitment and Enrichment Program (PREP) is a Spring 2012 recipient of the Mongelli Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement, formerly the Bruin Heroes Award.
“Sala” means living room. Through sala talks, Pilipino Recruitment and Enrichment Program (PREP) strives to create a living room environment, a comfortable and safe space for the students that they work with to talk as openly as if they were family members. From “Do you want to go to college?” to “Why do you want to go to college?” to “What are your fears about that?,” the students voice their thoughts, struggles, and stories.
Sala talks are not the only form of expression that PREP participants engage in. PREP utilizes an arts-based approach to provide its students opportunities to express themselves creatively, from haiku poetry to dot art, origami, shading and basic shapes, photography, collages, and self-portraits. Through creative expression, PREP ties in its core goals: Community Consciousness, Cultural Awareness, Leadership Skills, and Higher Education. “We like to connect our art forms with these goals,” said second year English major and Internal Director Joy Erika Diwa, citing an example where splatter art was used to relay the message “that the students don’t always have to stay inside the lines, they can be creative and in the end it will still be beautiful.”
PREP visits two sites throughout the year, one of which is in Lawndale at Leuzinger High School, where “most struggle to pass their classes,” according to second year Psychology major and Budget and Transportation Director Allyson San Agustin. The other site is in Historic Filipinotown at Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA), a community center and safe space in a neighborhood containing gang influence. For Agustin, the artwork that youth produce is “breathtaking” and “filled with emotion,” their artwork speaking volumes without any words.
Founded in 1980, it was only two years ago when PREP evolved from a tutoring program to an arts-based program, in response to arts program cuts within the Los Angeles Unified School District. “It became more of an art and mentorship program, and we incorporate it into their lives and make it so it’s personal for them,” Diwa said. “Our goal is to have [our students] open up, be comfortable with us so we can help advise them, get rid of their fears, and strive to be what they want to be. Even if society gets in their way, they can reach higher education.”
This year, 9 of the 25 Leuzinger High students in PREP were accepted into UCLA, a larger number of students than has even been accepted from this high school in the past couple of years. Some of the students are going to Bruin Life Weekend (BLW), a three-day and three-night yield event that PREP holds for high school seniors accepted to UCLA and who identify as Filipino to stay at UCLA, eat in dining halls, visit classrooms, go on a college tour, and build relationships with both current UCLA students and other accepted students.
For second year Sociology major and general member Christina Khoon, the experience is close to her heart. “I was a BLW student, I came and I didn’t really know anything about UCLA and its programs. I was coming in where I was the only person from my high school. I went to BLW, at first I was a little skeptical; I was shy; but the PREP board was so nice and really showed us what UCLA had to offer us,” Khoon said. It was this experience that motivated her to join PREP, who describes her volunteer experience as a way to “give back to a community that reminded me of my hometown.”
Diwa, also a BLW alumnus, recalls her experience as being critical to her decision to attend UCLA. “I felt most comfortable here; the people and environment made me feel like it was a home away from home. BLW impacted me so much that as a freshman coming in, I became the BLW coordinator; I wanted to do that for the students; I wanted them to realize how great UCLA is; fall in love with the school and the people,” Diwa said. “Going to site never feels like a job or work for me, because it is so much fun. Not only do you teach about art, but you learn about art; working next to the students. We teach them, and they teach us too. These kids learn and know so much, but you never know this until you give them a chance.”
PREP also increases access to higher education through Day in a Life, or DIAL, a one-day event where high school students ranging from freshman to senior take workshops, both academic and non-academic, on topics including the application process and UC A-G requirements. Other events include cultural dances, a campus tour, performances, and tabling from student groups to showcase college opportunities.
To Diwa, Agustin, and Khoon, PREP builds community both at their sites and on the UCLA campus. “My favorite moment was this year’s BLW, where we invited students to watch the Samahang Pilipino Culture Night run-through. At the end, usually the Samahang Pilipino all-cast sings the Samahang Pilipino theme song – they invited all the BLW students to join the circle,” Diwa said. “There were 45 of them intertwined with the 200-member Samahang Pilipino community- the students didn’t know the song but were figuring out what everything was- they felt like they were already welcomed into UCLA.”
Interested in joining PREP? Visit its website at https://orgsync.com/13417/chapter