OpinionOpinion

Op-ed: How can you help Berkeley youth qualify for a good career?

Berkeley can certainly take pride in the remarkable rise in our local high school graduation rate, but we still fall far short of what’s needed to assure equal opportunity for all students, especially disadvantaged youth.

In the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year with comparative statewide data, Berkeley’s high school graduation rate was 89%, compared to 81% statewide and to 82.9% for Alameda County and 74.8% for San Francisco. Especially worth celebrating is the significant increase in Berkeley’s rate over the past five years from just over 81% in 2009-10 to 89% in 2013-14.

High school graduation rates for Berkeley students
High school graduation rates for Berkeley students

But this success leaves much undone. It means that 11% of all our high school youth aren’t graduating. For students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the rate of those not graduating is even higher.

Numerous studies have shown that high school dropouts earn much less than high school graduates, suffer greater unemployment in our specialized economy, and end up behind bars at alarmingly high rates.

What can we do for those youth still in need of help?

Part of the explanation for Berkeley’s relative success in recent years lies in a remarkable community collaboration called the 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children & Youth, a citywide cradle-to-career initiative launched in 2008 with the goal of providing equal opportunities for all children regardless of race, ethnicity or income and eliminating the achievement gap in Berkeley schools by 2020.

Under the 2020 Vision umbrella is a large variety of tutoring, mentoring, assistance and special opportunity programs, and I would like to single out two elements where we hope members of the community could be of immediate help.

College & Career Day

One is our fourth annual College & Career Day for Berkeley school students coming up on March 9. It’s a key part of our efforts to help more students graduate from high school and be prepared for college or technical training so that they can find rewarding careers.

How can you help? Community members are invited to talk about their own jobs and careers in a school classroom on College & Career Day. The best part sometimes can be answering the often unexpected questions from the students. You can request the school level you’d like to visit (elementary, middle school or high school) and the time or times you’d prefer. Signing up is easy by just clicking on this link.

The classroom visits are a highlight of a weeklong series of workshops and events in the public schools called the Berkeley College & Career GradNation Community Summit, organized by the Mayor’s Office with other city staff, the school district, Berkeley City College, UC Berkeley and other community partners.

Berkeley Promise

Our newest initiative is the Berkeley Promise, whose goal to provide a guaranteed pathway to college for all qualified Berkeley youth. As a partnership of city government, the school district, Berkeley City College, UC and the California State University (CSU) system, this initiative seeks to encourage a college-going culture with a coordinated approach to helping students access existing support resources and by providing additional financial support to those who need extra assistance with college costs.

A high school student, for example, could follow this path to get an affordable education:

  1. Take courses at Berkeley City College (BCC) through concurrent enrollment during the junior and senior years of high school. Those starting as juniors can earn up to a year of transferrable college credit.
  2. Graduate with a minimum 2.0 GPA and enroll at BCC.
  3. Get an AA with a minimum 2.0 GPA with guaranteed transfer to a CSU campus.
  4. Graduate and begin a career!

We are now working on identifying sources of funding for the college costs — including incidentals like books, ebook readers and transportation — to help those who otherwise could not afford to follow the Promise pathway, and we’d be delighted to hear from you if you have suggestions or would like to contribute. You can reach us at mayor@berkeley.info.

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Tom Bates is Mayor of Berkeley