Westchester High School celebrated the academic prowess of several of its students during a ceremony April 10th in which officials from UCLA announced that five seniors would be awarded academic scholarships to the university.

Charles Lefferman, Christopher Onwaka, Christopher Bulpitt, Rachel Horning and James Bennett received the Blue and Gold scholarship, and Onwaka was also awarded the Vice Provost Initiative for Pre-College (VIP) Scholars Wasserman Scholarship.

VIP scholars who gain admittance to the university and who have completed a two-year program are eligible for a $5,000 per year scholarship for up to four years.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block spoke to the students, educators and administrators at the high school campus, where the students who received their scholarships were applauded during the ceremony.

Block also congratulated the parents of the scholarship winners, “who have played such a crucial role in your success.”

“It’s a wonderful achievement and something you should be very proud of,” Block continued. Noting that more than 90 percent of Westchester’s graduates go to college, the chancellor said, “We are very proud of the Westchester graduates on our campus, but I know there are wonderful opportunities at other universities, colleges and community colleges, too.”

The scholarship students join Tirist Abey, Banaz Hejazi, Britney Kim, Melissa Gomez, Sydney Manann, Rebecca Levy, Brett Derdiger, Laura Colosimo and Gloria Obialisi as Westchester Comets who have been accepted to UCLA.

The 14 students are also part of a group called the Academic Jacket Bearers, who are students that earn a cumulative 3.5 or above grade point average leading into their senior year.

“This speaks well for the school and it shows that you can get accepted into a university like UCLA if you study hard,” said Robin Adams, whose daughter attends the high school.

“It’s very thrilling to have so many of our students recognized,” added Adams, who heads the Academic Booster Club at the Westchester High.

“It’s nice that [Block] took the time to come to Westchester [for the ceremony],” said Gail Levy, whose who has two daughters enrolled at the high school.

Levy’s daughter, Rebecca, is one of the seniors who have been accepted to UCLA.

School administrators were hopeful at the outset of the scholastic year that the high school would improve its test scores and academic image. Although Westchester elementary schools have produced strong test scores and high student achievement indicators, the high school has had its share of academic problems in recent years.

As part of an effort to gain more local control and improve student achievement, Westchester High joined five other area schools in joining the Innovation Division (iDivision) of the Los Angeles Unified School District in January. Westchester schools are seeking to break away from the district and assume much of the day-to-day planning and governing of their schools.

The iDivision goal is to provide school communities with a new opportunity to accelerate learning through the principles of teacher, parent and student empowerment, partnership with strong community organizations and accountability for improved academic achievement.

The hope is that with increased parental involvement and a greater say in how their students are taught, Westchester community members, educators and parents can help their youngsters begin to compete collectively for academic excellence citywide.

The news that several students at the high school were now college-bound and had performed at a high scholastic level brought smiles to the faces of many parents who have been seeking disparate solutions to improve their kids’ grades and test scores.

“Westchester High is on the move,” Los Angeles Unified School Board member Marlene Canter told The Argonaut. Canter, who represents Westchester schools on the board, believes that the academic showing of the seniors who were honored is indicative of scholastic progress at the high school.

“We’re seeing it in the results of these scholarship students,” she said. “It’s really wonderful to see this.”

Parents and teachers at the high school were understandably thrilled to hear that many of their sons and daughters were performing well. Westchester High ranked in the lower half of state test scores last year, but teachers and administrators say that there has been steady improvement in recent months.

“The climate for improvement at the school is definitely there,” said Canter.

A total of 42 students are senior academic jacket bearers this year.