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Nicholas Academic Centers hosts 4th annual Thanksgiving Dinner

The educational program entertains students, local leaders with traditional meal

by Caitlin AdamsPublished: November 21, 2012 02:35 PM

Nicholas Academic Centers cofounders Jack
Mandel (R) and Henry Nicholas (L) carve
a turkey at the annual Thanksgiving dinner.
The Santa Ana-based Nicolas Academic Centers last weekend brought together program founders Henry Nicholas and Dr. Jack Mandel, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, and hundreds of local students for a big meal and a big celebration. The centers were also celebrating a milestone: 2012 is the fourth birthday for the NACs, which means that the program’s first class of high school students will graduate from college this year.

“The NACs succeed where others fail because we create a support system that includes students, staff, parents and high school counselors,” said Nicholas, who established the first center in 2008 with retired Superior Court Judge Jack Mandel. “It’s a model that works. One hundred percent of our students go on to college, and we’re going to ensure that every one of them earns a degree.”

The centers provide underserved Santa Ana high school students with a program that combines personal tutoring, cultural enrichment, and social and family support for a holistic educational and personal developmental experience.

In the four years of operation, students attending the NAC program have raised $3 million in scholarships and financial aid to support their continuing education. Currently, 231 NAC alumni attend college at top schools across the country, including Georgetown, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Notre Dame, and Smith College.

“The Nicholas Academic Centers are profoundly changing education,” Mayor Pulido said. “At Broadcom, Dr. Nicholas used brilliance and drive as a pioneer in the technology industry. Now, in collaboration with Judge Mandel, he has created an inner-city program that rivals the achievements of the nation's best private schools."

Half the students from the first NAC class are set to graduate college this year, with 87 percent set to graduate within five years. With the majority of NAC participants coming from Spanish-language families, these students are smashing the national predictions for their success: the National Center for Education Statistics reports that only 13 percent of Hispanic students will finish college.

Ivonne Huitron, an alumna of NAC and junior at UC Irvine, gave her impression of her experiences while a part of the NAC “family.” “I don’t know where I would have been if it were not for NAC,” said Huitron, who is majoring in Public Health and thinking about going to medical school or being a teacher. “Now I’m in college and looking forward to a brighter future. From my heart, I am so grateful to everyone at the NAC.”

At the event last weekend, local leaders voiced their appreciation of the centers’ efforts toward improving education for Santa Ana’s high school students. Dr. Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District, said that the NACs play a huge role in preparing the city’s students for the stage in life.

"We are fortunate to have many innovative partnerships in our district, and none more important than our work with the Nicholas Academic Centers," the Superintendent said. "The Centers have a profound impact on our students and demonstrate how we can work together to prepare all of our students to be college and career ready, and to assume their roles as part of the global citizenry.”

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