WILMINGTON, Calif. – April 21, 2008 – Although she may not think so, Itzel is a trailblazer.  She’s the first person in her family to go to college. Coming from Mexico in the eighth grade, she struggled with English as a Second Language courses. Today, she’s the first Banning High School graduate to attend the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo.

What made the difference? Without a doubt, Itzel says, it was the International Trade Education Programs (ITEP) at Banning High School in the working class Los Angeles Harbor community of Wilmington.  A $400,000 grant recently awarded by the Port of Los Angeles will ensure that Itzel’s experience will be repeated by other ITEP students in the years ahead.

The brainchild of former educator and Los Angeles Harbor Commissioner Carol Rowen, ITEP started in 1999 as a pilot International Trade Academy program at Banning. Under ITEP’s guidance, Banning now has three other academies/small learning communities on campus involving a total of approximately 720 students. The current academies include the Global Environmental Science Academy, the Global Safety and Security Academy, and the Maritime Agriculture, Tourism, Cuisine and Hospitality Academy.

 Banning recently gained distinction as the only California high school to so markedly improve for two consecutive years that it was removed from the state’s “Program Improvement 5” list. To be removed, Banning showed significant improvement in yearly student progress according to federal standards for growth. At that time, Banning Principal Michael Summe credited the ITEP program for much of this achievement since students are encouraged to stay in school while they are also provided with a practical introduction to potential international trade careers.

Overall Banning High graduation figures were only about 37 percent when ITEP was founded. Recent ITEP attendance records show a remarkable 74 percent rate among its academy grads. According to Rowen, who serves as ITEP Chief Executive Officer, “The ITEP students are being exposed to various careers and people involved in international trade. Most of them had no idea of the potential for well-paying jobs that are available to them at the doorstep of the nation’s largest port complex. They are learning what opportunities exist for them in their backyard and around the world.  We are literally opening their eyes to the world. Our motto, ‘Think Globally.  Earn Locally,’ Is working for them.”

Earlier this month, the Port of Los Angeles approved a two-year grant for $400,000 annually to assist ITEP’s efforts at Banning, and to more effectively track students from entry into Banning, through graduation and on to post-graduation enrollment at community colleges or universities. In addition, ITEP will expand its model academy structure to another high school in the region. The two-year grant follows initial funding by the Port to establish ITEP as an independent, nonprofit corporation and to assist in the development of a model academy for potential implementation on a regional basis.

ITEP also receives strong support from numerous maritime firms at the Port of Los Angeles.  Each year, for example, a group from the International Trade Academy participates in a Washington, D.C. leadership program with the financial support of the Pasha Group, while the Safety and Security Academy sends a select group of students for training at Cal Maritime, thanks to a grant from Metropolitan Stevedoring Company. With financial help from APM Terminals and Valero Wilmington Refinery, the Global Environmental Sciences Academy students participated in a week-long program at the Catalina Environmental Leadership Program. The Maritime Agriculture, Tourism, Cuisine and Hospitality Academy is currently seeking sponsors so that students can once again participate in the 4-H Leadership Program at UC Davis this summer.

Geraldine Knatz, Ph.D., Port Executive Director adds, “The ITEP program has been a highly successful partnership of public and private agencies joining for the good of our younger citizens.  The Port is especially pleased to help with ITEP’s very successful Internship Program that this year will place about 80 Banning students in jobs around the Port. This is often life-changing experience for these high school students.”

In the past six years, 19 former Banning interns have joined the Port as part- or full-time employees, often with Port employees serving as mentors.  One young man worked as a Port student worker while attending USC. Upon graduation, he was helped with wardrobe selections and interview techniques before his interview with his future employer, a major east-coast investment firm.

ITEP hosts its Annual Scholarship and Fundraising Dinner on Thursday, April 24, on the Banning High campus.  The dinner honors Jeff Burgin, Sr. Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Pasha Stevedoring & Terminals, one of the major supporters of ITEP and a long-time Wilmington businessman. In addition, the coveted “180 Degrees Award” goes to the Academy student who has made the most significant life changes, as judged by the faculty of the four academies.  For dinner information, contact the ITEP office at 818/249-6281.