When San Francisco native Monique August got off the bus at an intersection in San Jose one day in her senior year of high school, she was eager to explore the place she would spend the next four years of her life. August was on her way to San Jose State University for “Accepted Students Day,” when new students are welcomed to the campus to meet professors and current students. Her mother was busy, so she had to make this trip alone.
“I just thought that a college was a tall building, so I got off at a stop where I saw a tall building,” recalled August. “But it was actually the Santa Clara County Jail.”
From then on, she knew things had to change. “That was the pivotal moment where I thought ‘There has to be someone or something to guide a child,’” as they’re getting ready for college, August said. She was the first in her family to attend college, and is passionate about guiding first-generation college students today, especially those from underserved communities.
August now serves as the executive director of Choose College Educational Foundation, Inc. (CCEF) based in Oakland, which works with nine of the 18 school districts in Alameda County. The foundation connects students and parents with the resources they need when applying to college. Additionally, the foundation conducts grassroots campaigns aimed at fostering a college-going culture. “We want to make sure that all students have the information they need about college, and increase college eligibility and admission rates,” August said.
This weekend, the foundation hosted SuperSATurday, a family 10K run at Lakeside Park in Oakland. The event was aimed at motivating students to take the SAT and linking them with resources. Beyond the finish line students could talk to representatives from the College Board, a non-profit organization that helps students prepare for college by providing services including free SAT test prep. Representatives from the Regional Parents Network (RPN), another of CCEF’s initiatives, were there to inform parents of upcoming seminars and workshops. RPN works to equip parents of African American students in Alameda County with the information they need to make the best decisions regarding their children’s education.
Over 100 people from around Alameda County attended the run, which was open to families enrolled in CCEF’s programs as well as potential members. As students completed the race, they were awarded goodie bags containing school supplies to help them prepare for the testing season.
SuperSATurday is open to the entire community, regardless of economic status and race. “It’s about making sure that everybody has the information and resources they need about the SAT and college applications,” August said.
In an interview conducted before the race, Lia Osborn, director of professional development at CCEF, said some of the factors preventing students from taking the SAT include “fear, required test fees and distance that they may have to travel to take the test.”
“Students had a barrier getting into four-year universities because they weren’t taking the SAT, which was then keeping them out of a variety of colleges they could have had access to otherwise,” said Osborn.
Ben Tucker, an educational consultant at College Board, said what makes SuperSATurday effective is that it is strategically held in the fall, “a period that marks the beginning of the college-going season” when seniors start sending in their applications. “Information is king. Without information you have no education,” he said. “This event not only provides the information but also provides [seniors] the kind of academic support and advising they need to get to college.”
K’wan Lewis, a 10th grade student at Tennyson High School in Hayward, attended SuperSATurday as a way to network with representatives from the different organizations present at the run. “One day I want be a mortician, and I want get connected with people who can guide me,” he said.
SuperSATurday was also a chance for parents to learn about other programs that CCEF runs in Alameda County. Attendees were informed of the foundation’s newest initiative, the STEM STEPS for Success Scholars Program. It is designed specifically for African American students passionate about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM. The program works to close the achievement gap between African American students and their peers by providing them with additional training in math and science.
According to a 2014 report by the Oakland Unified School District, only 23 percent of African American students meet the necessary requirements to join a four-year university. “The issue we work to resolve is what happens to the other 70 percent,” August said.
CCEF also works to ensure that parents understand the requirements for their children to be eligible for college. “We can no longer just rely on the schools to provide that information, because the system just doesn’t have the capacity,” Osborn said.
According to the California Department of Education’s website, the state is stretched thin in providing individual college counseling for students. The student-to-counselor ratio in California public schools averages to 945-to-1, compared to the national average of 477-to-1, making California last in the nation.
Laura Babitt, a parent whose child is enrolled in CCEF’s programs, said she’s found their outreach to parents particularly helpful. “We are able to have workshops on college prep, knowing what classes your kids need to take so you really start thinking about college and what they need to do,” she said. Babitt serves as an RPN advisor and was at SuperSATurday to advise parents on how they can get involved.
As parents and children completed the run on Saturday, August jogged out to meet them, leading them to a table at the finish line where they were handed goodie bags and snacks. She then directed them to the representatives who were eager to provide information about college readiness.
“I really just want to make sure that no other children stop at a jail,” she said.