As Mission students return to school this fall, they will not only encounter new teachers and classmates, but a whole infrastructure of services at their schools that promises to improve their quality of life.
Starting this year, the Mission Economic Development Agency, along with the school district and other nonprofits, will implement an initiative at four Mission Schools that will provide everything from after school programs to workshops. Earlier this year the department of education granted MEDA the Mission Promise Neighborhood Grant worth $30 million over five years aimed at helping students at underperforming schools in the district.
The House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, along with other city officials, announced the grant to several dozen families that attended a press conference on Saturday at John O’Connell High School.
“It’s a model to our country, that’s why it’s $30 million dollars,” she said. This can be achieved, she said by “giving local leaders more resources — we always want more.”
The theory goes that if a family’s need for healthcare, employment and safety are met, then the student’s academic performance will improve, said Teresa Morales, a spokeswoman for MEDA.
The bulk of the money will be infused into 26 local area nonprofits that help the Latino community, including Mission Neighborhood Centers, Instituto Familiar de la Raza and Just Cause. Currently these providers operate independently, but under the initiative the school will begin referring parents to these services and make sure they stick with them, Morales said.
“We need to show that we can close the gap,” Morales of MEDA said. “The way to do it is to infuse these programs that are working.”
The statistics show that it won’t be an easy task. In 2010, the California Department of Education announced that six out of the 10 under-performing schools in the San Francisco Unified School District were in the Mission. Since then – and after a three year $45 million federal school improvement grant that runs out this fall – scores have improved at most of the schools.
MEDA will work with four of the schools, including Cesar Chavez Elementary, Bryant Elementary School, Everett Middle School and John O’Connell High School. Mission High School and Horace Mann Middle School will be target as part of phase two, six years from now, according to the grant application.
While the school improvement grant was aimed at helping students academically, the promise grant will be focused on helping the family’s other needs.
“We can help them academically, but what if they don’t have health insurance? We will sign them up,” said Luis Granados, the Executive director of MEDA. “That’s what happens right now, they get lost in the whole process.”
Ruth Rodriguez, 34, said she is considering transferring her daughter from George Moscone Elementary School –which has one of the highest Academic Preforming Index scores in the Mission— to Bryant Elementary School because of the programs that will be offered through the initiative.
“They don’t have the program I want and they don’t keep us informed,” she said. “The school has a lot of make up on.”
Reporter Andra Cernavskis contributed to this story.