Chinatown SAT program beats inequality with opportunity

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San Marino attorney Robert Chong knows that when most Americans think of top-scoring SAT students, they’re likely to picture someone of Asian descent. Sadly, he also knows that stereotypes don’t always match up to reality, especially in Chinatown. 

According to UCLA, Chinatown in Downtown Los Angeles is categorized as a Concentrated Poverty Neighborhood (CPN), meaning low economic prospects for residents, many of whom as Chinese immigrants. Along with economically rough waters comes academic difficulties, as Chong learned when his law firm took in several interns from Alhambra and Chinatown, and discovered that their prospects for the SAT were less than ideal. And unlike kids from Arcadia and San Marino, there was no one for these kids to turn to for help. 

“Chinatown has no SAT tutoring program,” Chong said, explaining one problem he identified. “Affluent areas have dozens.” 

That’s why Chong, working with the Chinatown Service Center, has launched the neighborhood’s first ever SAT tutoring program. Located at 767 N Hill St in Chinatown, the program runs on Saturday mornings from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. More than a score of students take practice tests and learn test-taking techniques from volunteer professors in preparation for the biggest exam in America.  

Chong has a personal connection to Chinatown. He grew up there, having emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1960s. He attended Wilson High School, made it to the University of California at Irvine, and obtained a law degree at the University of San Diego. He knows that although there’s cultural enthusiasm for test-taking, the SAT can be daunting for Chinese parents. 

“I see these kids at the park, playing soccer at night when they should be studying,” Chong said. “Parents know the SAT is important, but they don’t necessarily know how to help.” 

By working through the Chinatown Service Center, the program can rely on a community fixture that locals know is there to help. In fact, the community has been very receptive, sending their kids to fill out the program roster (currently at 32 students) and providing business sponsorships. A local State Farm agent and Cathay Bank’s nearby branch both donate funds, which go towards a part-time tutor and materials. 

Chong isn’t afraid to think big about his program, either. Although the tutoring is currently geared towards Chinese and Asian students, Chong hopes to expand into South Los Angeles or Boyle Heights soon. Other cities, like San Francisco or nearby Alhambra, could also benefit, Chong said. 

But for now, Chong is pleased to know he’s doing his part to help kids do their best on the SAT, even if that means early hours and hard studying. 

“They’re gonna take tests until they puke,” Chong says with a laugh. “But they’ll be able to take the SAT in their sleep.” 

 

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