Three years ago, the City of Berkeley, the Berkeley Unified School District, the UC Berkeley campus, and United in Action, a community-based, multi-ethnic coalition, began working together on a collaborative effort to improve our kid’s futures. Our institutions are committed to eliminating the disparities in health and educational outcomes, but we had never worked hand in hand to achieve our goals.
Berkeley’s white families have a longer life span than the national average and score higher on standardized school tests than others across the state, while our African American and Latino families experience disproportionate rates of chronic disease and lower academic performance. Community leaders, the school board, and the city council, set out to change the future.
Our goal is to eliminate the unacceptable disparity in health and educational outcomes for Berkeley’s children and youth by 2020.
It may sound easy to get the city’s health department, recreation and police departments, libraries, and parks department to work with 11 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, and 2 high schools, but it isn’t. Schools and cities have different cultures, different state and federal requirements and regulations, and both have experienced serious budget reductions over the past few years.
To begin our joint efforts, we selected three important education success indictors: Kindergarten readiness, reading proficiently by the 3rd grade, and improved attendance (just coming to school makes a difference).
First, we had to create a data system to accurately measure yearly progress. Second, we engaged district and city staff together with youth providers, parents, and community members. Third, we mobilized resources for our initiatives.
The results so far are positive.
Kindergarten Readiness: This year universal kindergarten screening was piloted and 628 children were assessed for kindergarten readiness before starting school. The results were used by kindergarten teachers to inform their instruction for the year. A ten-week kindergarten readiness program focused on developing self-regulation skills for 3-5 year olds attracted 97 students. We set up a coaching program for early childhood teachers to prepare them for children who are in a classroom setting for the first time. The school district revised its admission forms so it can better identify pre-kindergarten experiences and is proactively reaching out to families about school resources and services.
Literacy Tutoring: To encourage successful reading by the 3rd grade, 330 elementary students were tutored by trained volunteers from the UC Berkeley Cal Corps Program. City employees collected over 1,000 books, labeled them according to reading level, and distributed them to 16 after school programs. A new program to assist parents of struggling readers with strategies to support their children will begin this spring, and the city will continue to host the BUILD Reading Program through the libraries, recreation centers, and community-based programs to curb the “summer slide” in achievement.
Truancy Reduction: A new Truancy Reduction Program was developed partnering the school district and the Berkeley Police Department. Students out of school are now sent back to class, and their families notified immediately. The Berkeley Alive and Free Coalition, a volunteer program, trained 49 school staff on violence prevention and provides ongoing support for at-risk youth. A complementary program has developed rap sessions at Frances Albrier Community Center. There is a weekly class at B-Tech (our alternative high school) that coaches students to make wise choices that will enhance opportunities for success.
Both the City of Berkeley and the Berkeley Unified School District are proud of the 2020 Vision team results to date. We recognize many challenges still face us, but with good outcome data we can achieve our twin goals of closing the achievement gap and improving health outcomes. We look forward to continuing our work together.
Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles of 500 to 800 words. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish and/or permission to publish the op/ed exclusively. Topics should be Berkeley related and local authors are preferred. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.