by Family Success Coach Manager Amelia M. Martinez C. (photo, center)

As time-honored “Pomp and Circumstance” played, the gym at John O’Connell High School yesterday teemed with school staff, administrators, community partners … and visibly proud families. In walked 70 seniors — with four unaware they were about to have their lives bettered via the Mission Promise Neighborhood Scholarship.

The excitement was palpable as I had the honor to read their names.

“Karen Guzman.” Karen is heading to Holy Names University in Oakland.

“Anahi Velazquez.” Anahi will be attending San Francisco State University.

“Ivonne Villanueva.” She will be joining Anahi at San Francisco State. 

“Elwood Mac Murray.” Elwood is heading to UC Merced.

These appreciative students were selected for their exemplary academic achievement and community service, plus for representing the vision of the Mission Promise Neighborhood. The award given to each student will help them close any gaps they had left from their financial aid award and will ensure they attend their freshman year of college without any financial burden.

Getting students prepared for college
The aim of the Mission Promise Neighborhood is college readiness for all students in the Mission. While a big piece of this work is having the educational foundation and grades needed to get into a good college, the final part of the challenge is being able to pay for such higher learning.

According to the College Board, the average cost of such schooling is daunting for most families, with tuition and fees for the 2015–2016 school year being $32,405 at private colleges, $9,410 for state residents at public colleges and $23,893 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Meeting such costs is especially difficult for low- and middle-income Mission families, already on a tight budget as they attempt to just pay the monthly bills.

This need was the genesis of the Mission Promise Neighborhood Scholarship.  

Show me the money
For the last couple of months, the Mission Promise Neighborhood set a goal to raise $5,000 for two scholarships — and ended up raising double that at $10,000 for four awards.

The Mission Promise Neighborhood scholarship was a true community effort and showcased the fact that everyone knows they have a stake in this education initiative.

How was this money raised? First, there was a crowdfunding site where community members came together for the cause, giving whatever they could. Also, Mission Promise Neighborhood held two fundraising events at local businesses, with venues generously offered by Cease & Desist and Cha Cha Cha. Guest bartenders included Mission Promise Neighborhood staff and partners from Jamestown Community Center, MEDA, Mission Graduates and SFUSD. All tips from food and drink orders were donated to the scholarship fund.

At these fundraisers, there was also a successful raffle for prizes. Donors included Body Alignment SF, FAZE, Fitness SF, the Exploratorium, Little Baobob, Tartine Bakery & Cafe and ¡VIVA MEDA!, plus individual donors Cindy Clements and Zoe Farmer.

Special recognition goes out to First Republic Bank for its generous grant that helped us complete our fundraising goal. You have made college dreams come true.

Thanks to all of the residents, partners, community members and businesses who made four Mission Promise Neighborhood students — and their parents — very happy yesterday!


About Mission Promise Neighborhood

The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.


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MPN-JOC Exterior-Blog

“We should focus interventions on supporting teen moms so that they stay in school. That way, we would be helping a mother and a baby have a better future, so it’s a double impact,” argued Trevor, a sophomore at John O’Connell High School, as students debated the best solutions and interventions for high school dropout prevention.

The discussion was part of this week’s “College and Career Class,” when students explore their options and make sure they are on track, using the Plan Ahead curriculum. There is a growing conversation about dropout prevention, as the country is celebrating related good news. As highlighted in the December 2015 newsletter of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Latino high school graduation is at an all-time high – 76.3 percent. While this number is still lower than the 82 percent overall graduation rate in the nation, the gap is narrowing, according to the Common Core of Data.

The newsletter also stated that “traditionally underserved populations like English language learners and students with disabilities continue to make gains.”

In California, the overall graduation is now 81 percent, with 77 percent for Latinos – a lesser gap than nationwide.

Working for the Mission Promise Neighborhood, Education Manager Laura Andersen has seen the challenges at John O’Connell High School first hand. These traditional barriers to a high graduation rate range from supporting a high percentage of students receiving special education services, who are from very-low-income families or who are identified as English learners.

Explains Andersen, “John O’Connell, which became a Mission Promise Neighborhood high school in 2013, is tackling the most complex barriers for students every day, moving a community toward making high school graduation possible for all students, one at a time.”

The Latino graduation rate for 2013-14 at O’Connell increased to 78 percent, higher than the national and California rate for that ethnicity.

These numbers show that O’Connell’s strategy is making an impact. Various best practices combine to make this happen.

Start with a 6:1 student-to-staff ratio, which demonstrates a commitment to developing strong relationships with students and the adult community. Teachers also stay with students for two academic years at a time, so as to personalize learning and maintain an atmosphere of consistency for students.

Then there are the high expectations set for students, who are encouraged to pursue AP classes, honors courses and concurrent enrollment in City College of San Francisco. This abets a college-going culture at school, with community partners working to bring this environment into the home, too. This is especially important for Latino immigrant communities, with parents wanting their children to attend college, but needing assistance in how to guide the student in that direction.

Across the board, O’Connell’s curriculum focuses on preparing all students for the future. They learn through an integrated curriculum, project-based learning and group work. This culminates when juniors and seniors solve real-world problems through the lab of their choice: Health Behavioral Sciences; Environmental Technology; Building, Construction and Trades; or Culinary Entrepreneurship.

With an eye on the Latino graduation rate in particular, O’Connell’s Spanish-immersion program develops high levels of English and Spanish proficiency, complemented by literacy, academic competency and multicultural understanding. Those bilingual staff members also provide a consistent communication bridge with families.

Such strategies will continue to make a difference over the years, with an anticipated graduation rate for Latinos – and all O’Connell students – increasing every year.

It’s called community impact.


About Mission Promise Neighborhood
The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working, and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.



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Sergio Romo BlogMEDA staff was part of a mass gathering last night for a hallowed event at the Mission District’s Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist. The occasion? 33 youths, who some deemed did not have a prayer of getting into college, proved their naysayers wrong as triumphant participants in nonprofit Mission Graduates’ “College Connect” program. A joyous ceremony celebrated the transition of 25 high schoolers–donned in a rainbow of graduation gowns from various San Francisco educational institutions–into the start of their college careers. There were also eight others who had just graduated from prestigious schools of higher learning.

The advent of Mission Graduates was over four decades ago, when it began as more of an after-school program at the church. Mission Graduates today is an integral part of MEDA’s Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) initiative to take Mission kids on a successful cradle-to-college-to-career continuum. MPN family success coaches can enlist the services of Mission Graduates, one of 26 partners in the community, when a student is seen as at risk of not succeeding academically and lacking the initiative to go to college. Mission Graduates staff and volunteers mentor the youths, pointing them on the right path to achievement in higher education.

Two such volunteers have been MEDA Evaluator Elisa Baeza and Family Success Coach Lead Amelia Martinez. Baeza has volunteered as a writing coach, teaching students how to optimize their personal statements for college applications. She also acted as a mentor to steer a student onto a successful college path.

Martinez has mentored a trio of participants of the Mission Graduates program. Martinez explained how the “College Connect” program works: “You typically start mentoring youths when they are juniors. Almost all are the children of immigrant families. Mission Graduates attempts to match you with the student. For example, if the student aspires to go to Stanford, they’ll try to find a Stanford grad. If the student is interested in the sciences, they will attempt to find a mentor working in that field. It’s a powerful program that will help MPN reach its goal whereby every family succeeds and every student achieves.”

One challenging aspect of the Mission Graduates program is that these kids are the first in their family to attend college. While their parents want their kids to do well in school and go on to college–part of the reason they came to this country–these well-intentioned mothers and fathers generally do not have the understanding of the system to guide their offspring into academia. That is where community services, such as MPN and Mission Graduates, are vital to positive outcomes.

CheckMission Graduates takes into account more than just motivational aspects of academic success—there are always the monetary realities of higher education. These realties can be daunting for families that may be in financial dire straits. To meet this fiscal challenge, Mission Graduates extends the partner web by garnering funding for scholarships from other groups, to wit the $639K for this year’s 25 high school graduates (that averages over $25K per student).

Catherine Marroquin

Last night’s ceremony, appropriately entitled “Mi Pasaje” (“My Journey”), featured numerous inspiring speeches. Program Director Catherine Marroquin, who goes by the endearing moniker “Mama Cat,” warmly welcomed attendees; she explained the importance to Latin culture of ceremony around transitions.

Eddie Kaufmann

Executive Director Eddie Kaufman, pride showing on his face as he spoke of this year’s graduating group, followed Marroquin. After two graduates of the program, plus one parent, shared their stories, guest of honor Sergio Romo took to the stage to be interviewed by Damian Trujillo of NBC News. It was only fitting that an athlete deemed one of the best closers in baseball would close out this ceremony.

First-generation Mexican-American Romo, a strong supporter of the nation’s estimated two million undocumented students having the chance to pursue their college dreams through “The Dream Is Now” campaign, talked of his humble upbringing in the sleepy farming town of Brawley in Imperial County. He explained that not many get out of Brawley, so much so that when he embarked to college in Arizona to play baseball he was told by a chorus of his hometown’s pessimistic denizens that “he would be back.”

“Oh, I did come back,” stated a soft-spoken Romo as he showcased his famous ear-to-ear grin. “I came back as the only Mexican with two World Series rings.”

Romo extolled the praises of his beloved father, Frank, who toiled in the sweltering Southern California lettuce, sugar beet and alfalfa fields.

“My father always supported me. He taught me self respect . . . to be the man I knew I could be,” stated a thankful Romo.

Perhaps the best piece of advice Romo gave was when he entreated the youngsters to never give up, despite the obstacles they will invariably face. It was interesting to see that in person Romo is a reserved man of relatively slight build for a professional athlete; this counters the emotional and physical prowess he demonstrates on the mound as he faces the best hitters in the game. Romo explained that he harnesses his emotion to counterbalance the obstacle of his lack of stature.

The greatest obstacle to Romo came when he was in college in Alabama and faced racism. His doting father would call him after each game to see how his son had fared that day, but, sadly, the younger Romo habitually started the conversation with heartrending details of the discrimination he was facing in the Deep South.

Sergio Romo non-Slider“Stand up for who you are. It starts with self-respect. Never quit and your dreams can become a reality, too,” Romo advised the graduates.

Their journey complete, these 33 young adults are poised to take on the world. This would never have been possible without the guidance of Mission Graduates.

MPN is proud to be partnered with this renowned organization doing such empowering work for Latinos in the Mission community. In the words of MEDA’s Martinez: “Since ‘it takes a village,’ MPN is lucky to have such a great neighbor!”

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