By ALI TADAYON
March 27, 2018
OAKLAND — Because of family finances and trouble at home, Oakland High graduate Jimmy Huynh thought college was out of his reach before the launch of Oakland Promise — a multifaceted initiative by Mayor Libby Schaaf to significantly increase the number of college graduates from the city.
Through the program, Huynh was accepted to UC Berkeley, where he is studying biology; he will not have to pay a dime for tuition. He plans to attend medical school to become a dentist.
“I thought I would never have the opportunity to actually go to college,” Huynh told the Oakland Tribune. “But when (college counselors) started talking about how they would be able to fund me and support me throughout college, I was thinking that now I had an opportunity, so I took it up.”
In the two years since the Oakland Promise launched, it has provided Oakland students with $5.5 million in scholarships, and helped 670 students enroll in college with scholarships, mentor assistance and other support services, according to the second annual report.
The number of African-American college students from high schools in the Oakland Promise program has increased by 13.5 percent since the program’s launch, the report said.
“This is such tangible, beautiful proof that when a community comes together, weaves in different existing resources, attracts new resources and has a shared vision about wrapping ourselves around our kids, not just while they’re in school but from the moment they’re born until the moment they actually graduate college, we can completely change access to opportunity,” Schaaf said in an interview.
The money for Oakland Promise’s programs and scholarships is garnered mostly from donations. A small portion of resources are provided by the city of Oakland and Oakland Unified School District, said Schaaf’s spokesman Justin Berton.
The initiative takes a “cradle-to-career” approach to increasing the number of college graduates in the city, said Oakland Education Director David Silver, who manages the program. Through the “Brilliant Baby” program, $500 college savings accounts were provided to 150 babies born into poverty in Oakland. College starter scholarships of $100 have been given to 4,300 kindergartners and first-graders. The Oakland Promise also offers financial coaching to parents through those programs.
The Oakland Promise partners with the East Bay College Fund to provide scholarships to qualifying students ranging from $1,000 to $16,000. A slew of colleges have signed an agreement with the East Bay College Fund to provide additional scholarship funding to Oakland students who receive Oakland Promise aid.
The program has also put in “Future Centers” at Oakland High and other schools that help students and parents apply for colleges, seek financial aid and provide other services.
The goal of the Oakland Promise is to serve students at every Oakland school by 2020, Silver said. The initiative currently involves students at about 10 middle and high schools and 35 elementary schools. Silver said the initiative’s organizers seek to expand to 50 elementary schools by the start of the 2019 school year.
Oakland Promise also seeks to increase the number of college-starter scholarships for kindergarten and first-graders from 4,300 to 8,000 by 2020, Silver said.
Schaaf said the initiative’s early success goes to show that more can be done.
“These two years of data really demonstrate that this initiative, as bold and comprehensive as it is, deserves to be scaled and it deserves to be sustained,” Schaaf said. “We as a community can get that done for our kids.”