This is a guest post from David Silver, Director of Education for Oakland, California Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Looking over the crowd on January 28, 2016, one thing was clear: Oakland showed up in a big way. Under a big tent on a beautiful January day, hundreds of people from all walks of life — students, parents, teachers, elected officials, college presidents, business leaders, nonprofits, the U.S. Under Secretary of Education and many others — sat (and stood) to celebrate the official launch of the Oakland Promise (OP) and demonstrate their belief in Oakland youth.
Since that day and in less than two years, we have been able to achieve dramatic results, serving over 5,000 students and families – the vast majority of whom are students of color (93 percent) and from low-income backgrounds (85 percent).
The Oakland Promise is a cradle to career initiative with the vision that we, as a community, will ensure that all students graduate high school with the expectations, resources and skills to complete college and be successful in the career of their choice.The initiative combines best practices from across the country in an expansive way to create a college-going culture across the whole city; in fact, the goal of the Oakland Promise is to triple the number of college graduates from Oakland within a decade.
With over 1,000 community champions endorsing and supporting our work, we are well positioned to make the promise a reality.
Currently in Oakland, only 10 out of every 100 9th graders that start high school will receive a post-secondary degree within five years of graduating high school. We believe that this is unacceptable; the doors of opportunity are too often closed to many of our students, and that door closes early. By 3rd grade, there is already a pronounced achievement gap (or rather, opportunity gap) between students from racial minorities and their white peers.
In Oakland, only 21 percent of Latino students and 27 percent of African American students are reading at or above grade level by 3rd grade, compared to 77 percent of their white counterparts. However, by working together across public and private entities, we can help change that reality. The Oakland Promise builds the expectation of post-secondary education from birth and provides students with financial and social-emotional supports as they embark on their journeys to and through college.
In less than two years, OP has sent 700 public school graduates to college with $5.5 million in private multi-year scholarships and over 80,000 hours of persistence support through East Bay College Fund, ensuring students have mentors, peer support groups and counseling. We currently operate at 10 middle and high school Future Centers.
At the three high school Future Centers last year, applications for federal financial aid for college increased by an average of 10 percent, with Castlemont High School – serving students furthest from opportunity — increasing from 76 percent FAFSA/Dream App completion in 2016 to 93 percent. Additionally, students engaged by the three centers have accessed approximately $8.4 million in state and federal grants and increased college enrollment by 6 percent, compared to a decline in Oakland overall.
Last year, OP supported kindergartners at 18 elementary schools with a $100 early college scholarship and provided teachers with resources to build a college-going culture. This year, the program operates at 36 elementary schools. OP provided financial coaching to over 100 parents of newborns born into poverty and is on track to serve 250 additional families with $500 college savings accounts and financial coaching this year.
Did you know that students from low-income backgrounds with just $500 (or even less) in a college savings account are three times more likely to attend and four times more likely to graduate college? That’s why we connect low-income families to accounts to help them jumpstart their college savings, build aspirations for higher education and develop good financial habits.
During College Savings Month, the Oakland Promise is proud to partner with the 1:1 Fund to make college a reality for Oakland students. We have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $10,000 for Oakland’s youngest students–newborns and kindergarteners–to start saving for college. And during this week only, the 1:1 Fund will match your donation dollar-for-dollar up to $500.
Join us and help make the Promise a Reality for all Oakland students! Make your contribution HERE.
For more information on the Oakland Promise and to become a champion, visit www.oaklandpromise.org.
This is the second in a series of posts from members of the National League of Cities Mayors Education Policy Advisors Network (EPAN) highlighting the work their cities have done to ensure the success children and families in the education sector.
About the Author: David Silver is the Director of Education for Oakland, California Mayor Libby Schaaf.