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Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

July 6, 2005:

Jennifer Wythes Vettel ’86

Jennifer Wythes Vettel ’86, center, pictured with four juniors at Eastside College Preparatory School, is helping raise money from Princeton alumni in the Bay area for “Princeton House,” part of a new student residential hall.

(Courtesy Jennifer Wythes Vettel ’86)

A safe place for at-risk kids

PRINCETON HOUSE: If it weren’t for Eastside College Preparatory School, an independent secondary school in northern California, Joel Perez ’07 might not have made it to Princeton. Perez, whose parents were born in Mexico and moved to low-income housing in Menlo Park, Calif., when he was 4, entered Eastside in 1999, struggling with English and behind in math. But a patient teacher and lots of individual attention helped Perez improve his English and prepare him for college. “The individual attention I received at Eastside is what made everything possible,” says Perez, who is majoring in philosophy and working toward a certificate in visual arts.

Located in East Palo Alto, Eastside College Preparatory School offers a rigorous college-prep curriculum to children like Perez, who live in an impoverished, high-crime neighborhood. Jennifer Wythes Vettel ’86, who earned a master’s degree in education at Stanford with Eastside founder Chris Bischof, is helping make the school even better. Last fall Vettel, a former teacher and now mother of three, took the lead in raising money from Princeton alumni in the Bay area for Eastside’s first student residential hall. Faculty and staff decided the school needed to build a residential hall for the many students at Eastside who come from unstable home environments or have no permanent home and would benefit from a safe place in which to live.

Founded in 1996 and funded by individual donors and foundations, Eastside admits children based on their motivation, not test scores, and gives each student a full scholarship of about $15,000 a year. In the five classes that have graduated, all students have gone on to four-year colleges or universities; 97 percent are, like Perez, the first in their families to attend college.

The future Eastside residence hall will have eight wings or “houses,” each to be named after a four-year college or university. Vettel is organizing efforts to ensure that Princeton is represented. “Princeton House” will accommodate 20 students, she says. So far, Vettel has raised about 10 percent of her goal of $1.5 million to build Princeton House. For information about the project, e-mail Vettel at

“Many of the teachers and the vice principal were taking in students themselves and housing them, sometimes for an entire year,” says Vettel, who hopes to reach her goal by October, when the building permit expires. “While that’s great, you can’t sustain that forever. A dorm would provide a stable foundation for these kids.”

Vettel grew up in a wealthy community near East Palo Alto and taught history at one of the large public schools in the area. She got involved in Eastside College Prep, she says, “to give back and help this community.”

By K.F.G.