Budget cuts could jeopardize at-risk teen programs in SF 

Inez Vara attributes her academic success to the Green Academy, one of four career-focused schools-within-a-school at Abraham Lincoln High School.

When Vara was a freshman at Lincoln High, her earth sciences teacher suggested she sign up for the Green Academy, a program the school was starting the next year.

“I thought, ‘All it is, is save the whales, save the trees,’” she said. “But it was not what I expected.”

Click on the photo at right to see a breakdown of graduation rates from the California Partnership Academy.

Now a senior, Vara has learned about recycling, waste management and climate change. She is taking Advanced Placement environmental science and applying to four-year colleges, and she hopes to have a career in foreign aid.

Participating schools must ensure that half the students entering an academy be deemed “at risk” of dropping out in the future. But despite the greater challenges faced by many academy students, a recently released study by researchers at UC Berkeley found that 95 percent of students in the state’s 500 career academies graduate on time, compared to 85 percent of all students statewide. Academy students also were more likely to pass graduation exams.

At Lincoln High, students said the study’s findings made sense.

“Abraham Lincoln is such a huge school,” Vara said. “In the academies, we create smaller communities. We build closer relationships with the teachers and closer relationships with each other. We’re not just another student in the hallway.”

Kitty Lam, a senior in Lincoln’s Teacher Academy, agreed.

“You’re with these people for so long,” Lam said, noting that students in each academy share the same small group of teachers for three years. “You strive for success. You can’t just let them down. The class, the teachers, we’re a family.”

The academies’ success may be in jeopardy, however.

Three of Lincoln’s five career academies and two others at Balboa and George Washington high schools receive funding through the California Partnership Academy program. On the Peninsula, seven academies in the Sequoia Union High School District received California Partnership Academy funding.

Statewide, many are funded by Proposition 98, a 1988 ballot initiative, but legislation that funded other academies will soon expire. That means more than 200, including three at Lincoln, will not get state aid after this year.

“I’m just trying to enjoy it while I can,” said Denise Gregor, a business teacher who manages Lincoln’s Academy of Finance, which received a $42,000 grant this year. “It just is a phenomenal opportunity, and it was well worth having for however long it will last.”

Dina Wright, who manages the Teacher Academy, said losing funds could mean losing field trips, internships and dual-enrollment courses at City College of San Francisco. She noted that, in addition to state money, the academies receive funds through the Public Education Enrichment Fund, a city program that is set to expire after the 2014-15 school year.

“We are definitely in a situation where we are going to have to do some fundraising,” she said.

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

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Amy Crawford

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Friday, Dec 2, 2016

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