The Montoya-Alcocer Family. Josue Alcocer is a 2017 John O’Connell High School graduate.
He is now attending City College.
Photo credit: Madeleine Bair

Co-authored by:
MPN Director of Program Evaluation, Learning & Impact Morgan Buras-Finlay
John O’Connell High School Principal Susan Ryan

There is some great news coming out of John O’Connell High School: Graduation rates have increased, with Latino and African American students now graduating at higher rates than from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD).

(Read full data brief.)

By the numbers
Check out the impressive numbers for John O’Connell High School:

  • 86 percent of students graduated in 2016 (just one percent shy of SFUSD’s overall rate).
  • 88 percent of Latino students graduated in 2016 (compared to 75 percent of Latinos in SFUSD).
  • 93 percent of African American students graduated in 2016 (22 percent higher than the rate for African Americans in SFUSD).

These results occurred via a concerted effort, built over 15 years, with the final part of the equation the addition of the Mission Promise Neighborhood. This education initiative brought together 25+ community-based partners to engage in a collective struggle to overcome the predictive power of demographics. John O’Connell High School students arrive having faced disproportionate challenges of inequitable access to academic and economic opportunity. Fifty percent of students come with low attendance and GPAs in 8th grade, both early warning indicators.

Collective strategy: co-teaching approach
John O’Connell High School and the Mission Promise Neighborhood have jointly adopted a multidisciplinary co-teaching approach.

Says John O’Connell Principal Susan Ryan of this community strategy: “Our College and Career Center offers a holistic model for assisting students. It is an innovative partnership with multiple partner organizations, with the common goal of ensuring that all students are prepared to thrive in the professional world. This collaboration is unique in that each partner has staff embedded in the classroom, working alongside credentialed teachers.”

Team co-planning and co-teaching among classroom teachers and partner program staff has enabled John O’Connell High School to support students’ academic and socio-emotional development, ultimately building a school culture that does not wait for students to struggle and instead helps students expeditiously reach their goals.

Part of this strategy is harnessing the power of a trio of tried-and-true programs: SFUSD’s Mentoring for Success, Student Success Coaches and Mission Graduates’ college access program. Integrating supportive adults into the school day contributes to increases in feelings of safety and adult support among John O’Connell students.

As Mission Graduates Executive Director Eddie Kaufman explains, “John O’Connell’s model of partners working with students in the school day was aligned with our approach to college access: that our program’s foundation is the relationships built with students. Working with students in their classes throughout high school meant we had four years to develop their college-going expectations.”

Additionally, the family success coach, community school coordinator and student success coach work daily to build a college-going culture, strengthening student and parent comfort levels with navigating what can be a daunting process. This is especially true of our newcomer parents, for whom the college requirement, application and financial aid processes are intimidating.

Explains Community School Coordinator Paola Zuniga, “These changes offered a unique opportunity for O’Connell staff and partners for shifting services away from disconnected programs serving targeted groups, toward a cohesive program serving all students at each grade level. In this manner, partners and staff embed with teacher teams to support positive behavior systems, provide academic coaching and offer individualized attention as needed.”

Bettered graduation rates are an important piece of the cradle-to-college-to-career continuum on which our Mission Promise Neighborhood kids travel.

And here’s another important number: In 2017, 76 percent of students at John O’Connell said they planned to attend a two- or four-year college after graduating.

The Promise Neighborhood initiative was inspired by New York’s Harlem Children’s Zone Director Geoffrey Canada’s promise that every kid, no matter their background, had the capacity to do well in school and graduate.

“In San Francisco, we are keeping the promise,” sums up Ryan.

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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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Great news: Thanks to partner strategies, mentorships and increased parent engagement, the graduation rate of John O’Connell High School is now approaching that of SFUSD overall. According to a recently published Mission Promise Neighborhood data brief, “Making College an Achievable Dream: Foundations and Results,” O’Connell’s graduation rate increased from 68 percent to 85 percent between 2012 and 2016.

While O’Connell students desire to attain a college degree, how to pay for postsecondary education remains daunting, as the majority of students come from underresourced families. The same data brief reported that 51 percent of students at O’Connell indicated that financing is their main barrier to attending college.

That was the impetus for the creation of the Mission Promise Neighborhood Scholarship Fund last year, with the community’s efforts translating to four deserving O’Connell seniors matriculating at colleges in fall 2016.

Looking to further increase  the Mission Promise Neighborhood Scholarship Fund’s impact was the goal for 2017, with MEDA Development Manager Alberto Galindo setting the goals and spearheading the strategies to make this happen. MEDA is the lead agency of the Mission Promise Neighborhood education initiative.

“Our aim was to generate community involvement via fun events that would showcase impact,” explains Galindo, who was assisted in his efforts by Education Manager Laura Andersen.

That impact definitely occurred, with $11,000 raised.

Fundraisers were held this spring at three generously donated venues: the Mission’s Cease & Desist, which allowed their back bar to feature Mission Promise Neighborhood and John O’Connell High School guest bartenders; Senegalese restaurant Bissap Baobab, a MEDA Business Development client; and North Beach’s Cigar Bar & Grill for a Mother’s Day event. Numerous local businesses donated raffle prizes.

Complementing these fundraising efforts was an online Razoo donation page, where over $3,500 was raised. (This page remains active for anyone looking to give us a head start for 2018’s awards.)

For 2017, six O’Connell students are receiving awards after having their applications, including compelling personal histories, reviewed by committee. Recipients are all Mission students who have overcome obstacles and now want to better their futures — and that of their families — by attending college.

Four of the recipients for 2017 (photo left to right, flanked by Andersen and Galindo) are Diamond Woodruff, Gisselle Ortega, Alicia Rodriguez and Maria Zaragoza. Miguel Guzman and Diana Rodriguez are not pictured. All are grateful for the benevolence of their neighbors and are now better prepared for this next step in their journey.

Ortega’s story showcases the resiliency of these students. The youngster woke up at 4 a.m. each day to help her mother earn money by cleaning a pizzeria, a task that took over three hours before Ortega headed to school. She was in the first grade.

Ortega explains what drives her as follows: “I am motivated to go to college since neither my mom nor my brothers finished high school. By achieving my goal of going to college, I will bring great joy for my family, and a better life for us.”

“Thanks to the community for their generosity, as we send these young adults out into the world with local support from the Mission,” concludes Galindo.

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Special thanks to our community partners that contributed prizes to our fundraisers and provided venues to host our events: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Bissap Baobab, Cigar Bar & Grill, Dandelion Chocolate, Giordano Bros., Latin City Productions, Mateo’s Taqueria, Mission Cliffs, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, Roxie Theater, Tartine Bakery & Cafe and Tonic Nightlife Group.

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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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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.

 

Read More

by Mission Promise Neighborhood Family Success Coach Manager Amelia M. Martínez C.

Judging by the money raised last Friday night, the Mission Promise Neighborhood community is definitely committed to supporting San Francisco’s Mission District. Over 100 people came out for the “Tips for Tuition” fundraiser, with over $2,500 raised toward a college scholarship for students at John O’Connell High School.

At the end of 2015, when I brought up the idea of creating a Mission Promise Neighborhood Scholarship, I never imagined organizing a guest bartending event — or that it would be so successful. It means a lot to me to contribute to the college dreams of students from our school and to help promote our work through the Mission Promise Neighborhood.

The goal is to fund one-year scholarships, each ranging from $1,500 to $5,000. These one-time awards will be granted to a pair of first-generation, college-bound students from John O’Connell High School, with college enrollment in the 2016 – 2017 school year. The scholarship will go to one student who has been accepted to a four-year college and another student who will be attending a two-year college. Grantees are students who have participated in school programs and services from community organizations, been active in the community and achieved academically.

The exciting news is that to-date 94 percent of our four-year eligible students have been accepted to over 34 different two–year and four-year colleges!

A Mission neighborhood bar, Cease & Desist, generously donated the venue for Friday’s fundraiser. Volunteers served as guest bartenders, hailing from Mission Promise Neighborhood and its partners, Jamestown Community Center, MEDA, Mission Graduates and SFUSD. All tips from food and drink orders were donated to the scholarship fund. The rear bar area remained packed shoulder-to-shoulder for the entire 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. event, and the tireless bartenders never slowed down.

Other Mission Promise Neighborhood volunteers circulated through the crowd selling raffle tickets for an impressive array of prizes, including restaurant gift certificates, sports apparel and original artwork. The deal on raffle tickets was so popular that staff was constantly being asked to repeat their “Five for 20!” chant in exchange for more tickets. Many thanks to Little BaobobTartine Bakery & CafeBody Alignment SFFAZE, the Exploratorium, ¡VIVA MEDA!, Cindy Clements and Zoe Farmer for their donations of raffle prizes.

Kudos also goes to Cease & Desist staff bartender, Mack, who provided an orientation and brief bartending lesson to volunteers and then spent the rest of the event backing them up with help from colleagues Olivia and Jordan. Special thanks to MEDA Board member and SFUSD Board of Education President Matt Haney for coming out on his birthday weekend to be a guest bartender. That’s true dedication to our students.

This Mission Promise Neighborhood event epitomizes powerful community partnerships and we look forward to similar events in the future.

There’s still time to help our students go to college. Donate today.

____________________________________________________________

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.

 

Read More

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.

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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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