City middle schoolers given chance for higher education

With increasing tuition costs and a difficult job market, the prospect of going to college is a challenge unlike ever before.

But SF Promise, a group that aims to ease the difficulty by placing middle school students on the college track, is ensuring acceptance into SF State as long as grades, SAT scores are at the minimum required level and all of the required classes are passed.

“We have a mentoring program at six different middle schools across the city, as well as work through the district with building curriculum around creating a college-going culture,” said Justin Woodard, SF Promise coordinator for SF State. The schools include Everett, AP Giannini, Horace Mann, James Lick, Willie Brown, and Martin Luther King, Jr middle schools.

“SF State guarantees to students apart of the program if they continue to stay in high school and get GE requirements, we will guarantee that there is a spot for them,” said Jo Volkert, Vice President of Enrollment Management at SF State. “It’s basically priority in one sense. First generation students may think college is an impossible dream. Mentors help them appreciate and understand that it is a possibility,”

There are about 30 paid mentors in the program to assist students.

“Four of the mentors actually graduated from the middle schools they went to, so they are going back to the community and helping students like them,” Volkert said.

Money will be raised to offer assistance, though nothing is set in stone. Because the first class of the SF Promise program will not graduate until 2015, Woodard said there is still enough time to figure out funding.

There is also more to SF Promise than just providing mentors to students, some schools are also providing college resources.

“The other parallel piece is at the unified school district — they are doing things in terms of activities to promote going to college,” Volkert said. “They are creating college centers where students can go and get materials to find out more about college. We’re doing forums in schools. So there’s more to it than just the mentor program.”

Volkert said the point of the program is to bring educated members of society to SF State.

“Basically it’s sort of a long-term vision,” Volkert said. “You’re trying to create an educated work force for the cultural vibrancy of the city.”

For students, particularly those in the neighborhoods of San Francisco with lower income, the program is especially helpful.

“It’s a great program,” said Patricia Koka, parent liason at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, a school that serves the Bayview district. “It helps our students tremendously. A couple of the mentors are actually alumni from our school which shows our students the reality is strong that they can go onto college. Without SF Promise that wouldn’t be able to happen.”

For parents who want their children to be able to achieve college admission, the program offers a unique opportunity.

“Parents are really excited that their child has the opportunity to go to college,” said Koka. “I had a parent the other day ask me ‘so there is a space no matter if my child just has a 2.0 GPA?’ Which is a really exciting thought for parents that with all the pressures going on that there is (acceptance even with) a bare minimum.”

Students still have to meet minimum CSU requirements in order to gain admittance.

“Student should not feel somehow someone is getting a bonus or an advantage,” Volkert said. “The whole idea is to get educated workers from SF who contribute to the economy and be good citizens of San Francisco.”

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