From left, back, are Noel Rauda-Trout, LAEC CEO; and Pastor Marcus Murchinson of Tree of Life Church. Seated, from left, are Alton Sakado, College Bridge Academy principal; and Crystal Wadi, vice principal. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)

A new charter high school is up and running on the campus of Tree of Life Missionary Baptist Church.  Thanks to a partnership with the nonprofit, Los Angeles Education Corps (LAEC), the church houses the College Bridge Academy where more than 120 students attend academic and vocational classes and eventually graduate with their high school diploma.

The collaboration is part of Pastor Marcus Murchinson’s and the congregation’s philosophy of doing “church unusual” in that they seek opportunities to offer services and programs that benefit the local community. Those activities include a youth feeding program, substance abuse treatment, a nurse managed clinic, transitional housing, and reentry classes for formerly incarcerated individuals.

In July, Tree of Life launched its Teen Club where young people meet each Friday to dance and socialize. The opening of the academy is another way to help youth in the greater Watts area, especially those who may have experienced difficulties in their previous schools, said Murchinson.

College Bridge Academy Student Council members are, from left, De’Sonty Johnson, Lupree Gray, Jahcure Scott, Rosinaa Ortiz, Im’unique Young and I’nesa Johnson. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)

“Our partnership with College Bridge Academy addresses two important issues – academia and the vocation. The academy has a unique charter model that intersects intellectualism and entrepreneurship,” noted Murchinson.

Noel Rauda-Trout, LAEC CEO, described the affiliation with Tree of Life as a “divine coincidence.” About 10 years, LAEC had sought to use the church’s facilities, but it didn’t work out. Returning this year, Rauda-Trout said, “I came back to talk to this pastor and it was the right timing. He is trying to build a holistic mission and we fit in well with that.”

In addition to the Tree of Life site, LAEC operates academies in Inglewood, Compton and El Sereno. which are all focused on helping youth and young adults, from ages 14-to-24, earn their diplomas and succeed in life. Each campus unites with one or more nonprofits that provide services such as counseling, job training, case management and paid employment.

“I can take participants from Tree of Life’s transitional living home and put them in my work program or the youth build program to get training. We can make a lot of good connections,” added Rauda-Trout.

Classes are intentionally kept small, averaging 15-to-20 students, which not only provides an intimate learning environment, but also allows teachers to make personal connections with the pupils. The academy also has a Student Council as well as provides vocational training that features a construction lab and a pre-apprenticeship program.

     College Bridge Academy students pose during their lunch break. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)

“The program was instituted by the Northern America Building Trade Unions of the U.S. Department of Labor to offer to inner city youth the ability to build in their own communities,” explained Kendra LaRose, vocational program director.

“We want to prepare this generation with skills, safety awareness and the tools to have better lives. General construction offers them an opportunity for that. They will be part of the new workforce as the baby boomers retire,” she said.

As for the future of the partnership, both Rauda-Trout and Murchinson expressed great optimism about the outlook for the College Bridge Academy at Tree of Life Missionary Baptist Church.

“This is my God given mission for my life and that is why I am dedicated to it. It is not a job. It is my mission. I try to hire people that feel the same way. We have staff that love and deeply care about the children and they pour their lives and into them. We really do care and want to make a difference,” stressed Rauda-Trout.

“I am reminded of a phrase credited to Tupac Shakur the said, ‘did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong,’” said Murchinson. “My hope, with this partnership, is to build Watts with brick and mortar and expose our youth to alternative life choices.”

Tree of Life Missionary Baptist Church is located at 9702 Holmes Ave., in Los Angeles. To learn more about the church’s programs, call (323) 566-1202 or visit For information on the College Bridge Academy, call (323) 638-2220 or visit