The Saturday Science Academy II at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine (SSA-II), a STEM program for youth from underserved LA communities, “graduated” 159 K-12 students at its 18th annual “JuniorWhite Coat Ceremony”.

The Saturday Science Academy II at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine (SSA-II), a STEM program for youth from underserved LA communities, “graduated” 159 K-12 students at its 18th annual “Junior White Coat Ceremony” on Saturday, January 20. The ceremony took place in the gymnasium at King-Drew Medical Magnet High School, and featured addresses from CDU President Dr. David Carlisle, keynote speaker Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and LAUSD board member George McKenna III.

SSA-II is a year-round program with three eight-week sessions during the school year and a four-week summer course. The program is open to all students, but ultimately seeks to inspire students of color toward degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering or math – STEM fields in which those populations have been traditionally underrepresented.

Reports show that students who participated in SSA-II in 2017 saw a 91% overall improvement in their grades, with nearly 80% of students increasing their grades from failing to passing (59% increased their grades from “F” to “A,” 7% increased from “F” to “B” and 10% increased from “F” to “C”). Parents and students alike credit the program for improving student performance in schools, and better immersing parents into their child’s studies. Susan Jones, who has had four children go through the program, said, “I am so grateful for Ms. Grey and the Academy, because they have changed my kids’ lives and helped them get to the next level in their education.”

CDU President Dr. David Carlisle gave opening remarks at the ceremony, stating, “This is one of the most amazing ceremonies held anywhere in the United States, because this is where you see future health care professionals as young as age four have gathered together to receive their first white coats.” The white coats that SSA-II students receive ultimately symbolize integrity, compassion, dedication and a commitment to serving others.

Along with musical performances, the graduating students took turns demonstrating the knowledge they’ve acquired since entering the program, such as how the cardiovascular system works.

The keynote address was given by Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), who encouraged the graduates to reach for the stars. “You can be anything in the world that you want to be, and it’s also okay to change your dreams and aspirations, as long as you always have them.”

Noted LAUSD board member George McKenna III also gave remarks at the ceremony, commending the graduating class for dedicating their Saturdays to enriching their education. Additionally, Dr. McKenna also wanted to “show [his] appreciation as an educator and a friend to the parents that had to make sacrifices” to ensure that their students received a quality education.

This year’s graduation marked the final ceremony for Lorraine Grey, who has been at the helm of the Academy since 2000. Dr. Carlisle expressed his appreciation for Ms. Grey and her dedication to the Academy throughout the years. “We really appreciate [Grey], because this program wouldn’t be here without her, and the careers of so many young people would not have been launched into the health care professions without her,” he said.

Grey took the podium to thank everyone for their support of SSA-II and their gratitude for her service and dedication. Upon her retirement, she will relocate to Atlanta and volunteer with a local cancer support group. As a show of appreciation, Atty. Jaye Person-Lynn presented Mrs. Grey with a $1,000 check on behalf of the parents of the program. Upon Grey’s retirement, Eileen Forbes-Hill, Executive Director of Pipeline & School Partnership Programs, will assume the responsibility for leading SSA-II.