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September 30, 2011 Too often school choice is an issue discussed exclusively by academics and activists, while the voices of those directly affected - the students - are seldom heard.

That's why National School Choice Week has launched its Student Writers program. One of the program's first blog posts is from Macy Olivas, a graduate of the Preuss School UCSD in San Diego, Calif. and a current student at Whitworth University. This post has been reprinted with permission from National School Choice Week.

Forty Zip Codes

I graduated from a class of 102 students from 40 different zip codes. Every morning we all stood along the sidewalk edges waiting for our school buses to take us across the city to La Jolla, California. I guarantee you can still find students from my neighborhood there at 7:50 am waiting for the "Z Bus" to pull in. Some still slipping their uniform polo over their head, others gluing last minute pieces onto their tri-fold, and a handful reviewing their notes from last night's Zimmerman reading for that day's A.P U.S history reading quiz. Some things never change.

After seven years of this morning routine, I know it well. On average I spent 396 hours on a school bus a year with my peers. That does not include the time some of us spent riding the city bus or the trolley to one of the 13 school bus stops - or the Saturday morning bus rides we took to get extra tutoring. Ninety-five percent of my school was bused from all over San Diego County. Although we spent a significant amount of time commuting to school, we knew that boarding that school bus every morning was changing the trajectory of our lives.

When we got off the bus we stepped onto a college campus in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in San Diego, a scene drastically different from the low-income neighborhoods we were growing up in. The Preuss School UCSD is a charter school located on the University of California San Diego's campus. Dedicated to helping low-income minorities become the first generation in their families to go to college, Preuss helped make college my reality. Not only was I physically on a college campus, but I was also constantly being challenged to think like a college student. Unlike the neighborhood schools my peers and I would have gone to, Preuss has no tracking system. All Preuss students are placed on one track - the college track. Whether it was one of the UC schools, an ivy league or a liberal arts school, we all knew college was in our immediate future.

Every morning I waited for the bus across the street of what would have been my middle school. Although there were few of us in the neighborhood, our navy blue and maroon colored polos became a sight that neighborhood parents and kids grew accustomed to. As we stood alongside the street with SAT prep books in hand and overstuffed backpacks across our shoulders, we watched students we once went to elementary school with make their way to school.

When we started Preuss in the 6th grade, these former classmates would stop by and wait with us, sharing stories of what was going on in their own middle school. But as the years progressed, they stopped saying hi and soon just became figures across the street joined in by a new crowd. Some you could see were getting involved in gang activity in the neighborhood. As we witnessed them all move up the street to the local high school, we realized how different our worlds were. We all lived in the same neighborhood, but our mentality on what was going to become of our lives could not have been further apart.

While I do not know what would have come of me if I had gone to my neighborhood school, I am certain I would not be at the university I am at today. By going to The Preuss School UCSD, I was challenged to take AP classes and given the support I needed to be the first generation in my family to go to college. With issues of teen pregnancy and gang violence so ingrained in the neighborhood I grew up in, it is hard for me to imagine what my schooling experience would have been like. As a daughter of first generation immigrants, it would have been easy for me to slip through the cracks of the broken pubic school system.

What school choice means to me is a better chance at having a successful future. My schooling helped change my life path and I do not know where I would be today if it were not for the support I received at Preuss. I see school choice as an opportunity for parents to ensure that their child is getting the great quality of education they deserve and need.

I still reside in a different zip code from the rest of my former peers from Preuss. But this time around our zip codes have taken on a whole new meaning. With student box numbers and university names now attached to each of our addresses, the kids who once came from 40 zip codes in different low-income communities in San Diego are now steps away from becoming college graduates.

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