Instead of spending the summer on a beach or on vacation, high school students with the Pomona College Academy for Youth Success, PAYS, are spending part of it in the classroom, prepping for a college career.

“PAYS is a college access program for underrepresented students in our local area,” said Andres “Fluffy” Aguilar, director of PAYS.

The free 4-week summer program has been around since 2002. Organizers say it’s had more than 600 students participate and every single one has been accepted to a four-year university. Students live on campus Monday through Friday, dine on campus, and take classes from college professors.

“The important part of this program is really having them envision themselves on a college campus. For a lot of these students, they’ve never stepped foot on a college campus. They don’t know what college is going to be. They are going to be the first person in their families to go to college,” Aguilar said.

“I tell them, ‘Some of these questions that you’re answering now, I answered over 10 years ago,’” said Cesar Meza, a PAYS alum.

He said his math instructors inspired him in the very class he now teaches for PAYS. He wants students to realize math isn’t just about numbers but rather a tool kit for asking questions about the world.

“Students are able to see that doing mathematics is a group activity. There’s discussions that come in the process of solving questions, but even in what does the answer mean to us,” Meza said.

The students also take critical inquiry, which gets them thinking about current events and they also have their choice of electives, including things like Taekwondo and video games. This is Ashley Aviano’s first year in the program.

“There’s so much guidance here that isn’t offered to me in my regular high school, so I really wanted to experience that,” she said.

Raised by a single mother, she heard about the program from her brother, who also went to PAYS and will enroll at Brown University to study architecture. She wants to become a surgeon.

“It feels great because you always have a support system behind you, and you can always confide in people whenever you need something, educationally or just with your personal life,” Aviano said.

Felipe Salazar is making the most of his last summer in the program.

“I think I’ve become someone a lot more defined, especially more recently. I think I’ve cultivated who I am,” he said.

He lost his mother to stomach cancer last year, but that hasn’t dampened his passion to become a history professor or historian.

“I think my mom would be incredibly happy seeing me here, seeing me like still thriving a year later after I’ve had to say goodbye,” he said.

A program pushing students who may be underrepresented but refuse to underachieve.