Program initiated for low-income students 

The San Francisco school district has targeted thousands of "educationally disadvantaged" middle school students for a federal college-readiness program that may also improve the district’s graduation rate, officials said.

Over the next five years, the school district will receive $11.2 million as part of Gear Up, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, a federal grant program that includes a state and partnership match component aimed at increasing the number of low-income students who attend college.

About 3,350 middle school students in San Francisco have been selected for the program representing nearly half of the district’s middle schools. Combined, the schools have an average state score of 648, according to the district.

The target score, set by the state based on standardized tests students take each spring, is 800.

Most students chosen for the Gear Up program come from the southeastern section of San Francisco, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

They come from households where less than half of the adults older than 25 have completed high school and less than 30 percent have finished college. An average of 68 percent of students at the schools combined are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

The district has identified the students as "educationally disadvantaged youth." They will receive in-depth counseling services and tutoring in various subject areas through after-school, weekend and summer programs, and will develop a plan for college with the help of counselors. The teachers involved will receive additional professional development.

"Each target middle school will have a Gear Up coordinator working with the counselors, teachers and students to ensure increased school bonding and academic achievement," Blythe said.

Other college-readiness programs will be used to augment Gear Up, including those offered through San Francisco State University, UC Berkeley and the California Academy of Sciences. Students will also receive help with personal and social skills development.

The district’s new superintendent, Carlos Garcia, who took his post in July, has indicated that increasing the district graduation rate will be one of his top priorities, along with closing the achievement gap — an academic performance disparity between white and Asian students and their black and Hispanic peers.

In 2006, the districtgraduation rate was 91.7 percent, down 2.3 percent from the year before, according to the state Department of Education.

The district college-bound rate is harder to track, Blythe said, but a survey of seniors in the Class of 2007 revealed that 81 percent of 2,626 students who completed a survey in May said they planned to enter a college or university by the end of the year.

arocha@examiner.com

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