On Thursday morning, about 20 kindergarteners gathered together in front of the stage at the auditorium in Bridges Academy at Melrose and cried, “I’m going to college!” Anita Iverson-Comelo, the principal of the school, introduced the kids to the audience saying, “This is the class of 2033,” suggesting that the kids are going to graduate college in that year. “Please give them a big hand!” the principal added as the audience applauded.
The kids were participating in the “Kindergarten to College,” or K2C, launch event, which was designed to motivate young children to attend college in the future. About 200 people attended, including more than 100 students and 50 parents. In the auditorium, the flags of different universities such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford and UC Berkeley, were hung on the wall.
All of the kids were given “certificate of scholarship,” on which were written “the Oakland Promise gladly presents [each students’ name] with a $100 contribution to your Oakland Promise Scholarship Fund awarded the 15th day of March, 2018.” The Oakland Promise is a partnership between the Oakland United School District, the city, and other organizations, which has a goal of ensuring that every child in Oakland graduates high school with the expectations, resources and skills to complete college and be successful in his or her career. K2C is one of their programs to achieve that vision.
The principal called out the name of each student and gave them their certificate, one by one. The students took a group photo by each class, with the children holding their certificates.
About 5,000 students start kindergarten in Oakland public schools each year, according to the Oakland Promise. The organization aims to serve all 5,000, from kindergarten until high school graduation, by the year 2020. “We have some type of activities and events like today, where we celebrate the students on their journey to college and talk with parents and families more about what the program is, and how they can support their children,” said Mary Padden, a K2C project director at Oakland Promise. Currently 35 elementary schools are participating the program, but the scale will go up, she said.
“What is college? What is a university?” Iverson-Comelo asked the kids both in English and Spanish as she moderated the event. “It’s the future. It’s the school you go to after high school.” She added that “There is a very big support for you—it’s called the Oakland Promise.”
The Oakland Promise provides every public school student who enrolls in kindergarten with a $100 “early college scholarship,” which is intended to make going to college an achievable expectation, because some money has already been set aside for it. The organization helps parents set up a 529 college savings account, a special account designed to encourage early and consistent savings towards college or any other form of postsecondary education.
“Many families think that going college is something really hard to accomplish, almost impossible because they have no resources and information,” said Arcelia Gonzalez, a regional family engagement liaison at the Oakland Unified School District. The schools that participate the K2C program receive a curriculum, technical assistance and other resources from the Oakland Promise to promote a college-going culture and help educate parents on how to plan ahead for their children.
Gonzalez said that many families have said to her, “No, it’s too soon for me,” when she presented them with information and resources about college. She said she responds, “It’s never too soon. It’s better to have information right now,” because oftentimes the families find out about requirements for sending their kids to college too late.
“Having this program available for families and providing the students with that college-going mindset, it’s helping not just students, but also parents to think about the possibilities,” said Gonzalez. “The families are really happy that someone is guiding them in the process, not leaving them alone.”
“I feel like there is a hope, like there is an opportunity to learn about universities,” said Mayra Godino, a parent who sends her 6-year-old daughter to the school, speaking as Rosana Covarrubias, a community schools program manager at the school, translated from Spanish. “With that help, it creates the possibility in our mind that our kids can go to a university.”
Godino is an immigrant from Mexico. She said that the United States offers a lot help for students, which is very hard to get in Mexico. “I didn’t go to college. That’s why I’m enthusiastic and excited for my child to have that opportunity to reach the goal,” she said. “This program gives my daughter an idea of what she can reach in her education.”
“My daughter gets motivated to go to the university through the program,” said Maria Garcia, a parent who sends her 7-year-old daughter to the school, speaking as Covarrubias translated from Spanish. “I’m trying to continue to support my child.” Garcia said that she thought that sending her kid to college would be difficult, because there isn’t a lot of information. “I’m trying to get more involved in my daughter’s education and know what are the requirements that she need and what I can help with that at home,” she said.
Principal Iverson-Comelo said the school will offer “follow-up workshops where parents can learn what are the requirements to go to college.” The school is coordinating a trip to UC Berkeley for the CalDay event on April 21, for parents and their kids to explore the university. Some parents will drive to campus with their kids, and 50 to 60 people are planning to visit there by bus, which will be rented with help from the Oakland Promise.
“A lot of parents feel like they don’t have enough experience or knowledge to be able to support,” said Covarrubias. “So, what we are trying to do here at the school is be that knowledge for them.”