Aaron Cornejo could hardly believe it when he saw his report card with all A's and Bs for the first time.
"I had to look at my report card again like 'I actually have those grades?'" said Cornejo, 17. "I told myself if I could do this, I'm capable of doing more stuff."
Before joining one of the LACER (Literacy, Arts, Culture, Education and Recreation) Afterschool Programs in the sixth grade, Cornejo said he used to come home from school and plop down in front of the TV.
"I would get lazy. I wouldn't even try to do my homework. But LACER changed that," Cornejo said. "The teachers at LACER would tell me that I'm capable, and I would believe in myself."
Eight years later, the Hollywood High School senior won the John Liechty Outstanding Student Award, an honor LACER gives to high-achieving students at each of the six schools that offer the free afterschool program.
One of Cornejo's main motivations to do well in school has been his love of music and participation in the LACER marching band. Band members must maintain at least a 2.0 average.
Despite state and federal budget cuts in the arts and other school programs, LACER has tried to step up and make a difference where it can, said founding member William Seymour, who runs the program. Marching band, for example, was cut from Hollywood High School in 2009; LACER now provides support for the program.
The band is one of a variety of classes LACER offers in addition to student assistance with homework.
"They love the afterschool [program], and when they love the afterschool [program], that means they go to school," Seymour said. "We're a saving grace for so many students, and the ones that come to us are the ones that really want … to take full advantage of it."
Between 96% and 98% of LACER high school participants graduate, Seymour said.
Through the generosity of Times readers and a match by the McCormick Foundation, $810,000 was granted to local literacy programs this year as a result of the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.
The Holiday Campaign, part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund, raises contributions to support established literacy programs run by nonprofit organizations that serve low-income children, adults and families who are reading below grade levels, at risk of illiteracy or who have limited English proficiency.
Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission. Donate online at latimes.com/donate or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.