Eric Mendez was ready to start his life anew. The young man came back to San Francisco after having paid his dues by being incarcerated for several years. One of the first things Eric noticed was that his five-year-old son was not doing well academically. This compelled Eric to immediately pursue full custody of the boy, with that goal being achieved 11 months ago.
The biggest issue Eric noticed was that his son’s reading level was not where it should be, as the youngster was having difficulty distinguishing letters.
“He just couldn’t get his ABC’s right,” explained the single father, who was looking to offer the parental support he did not get as a child.
Things sure changed once Eric and his son were exposed to digital literacy via the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Startup:Education program. This pilot program was implemented this school year at four elementary educational institutions: Cesar Chavez, which is one of the four Mission Promise Neighborhood schools; John Muir in the Western Addition; Bret Harte in the Bayview; and Gordon Lau in Chinatown.
These days, Eric’s son reads well … and often. The first-grader pores over a digital book for an hour at a time. This is something the boy wants to do.
This story is echoed by that of Miriam Rivera, whose daughter is now a first-grader thriving with technology. Miriam has been empowered by Startup:Education, being given the tools required to ensure her daughter’s education is a positive experience. As part of a two-generation approach, Miriam has become more tech savvy, as before she wasn’t sure how to use her smartphone for anything other than calls. A new world has opened up for the entire clan.
These inspiring stories–relayed at an SFUSD meeting of city and community partners–showcase the necessity of tech in a family’s life in 2015. Deputy Director Justin Barra of Startup:Education nodded in approval as the parents told of how their lives had been bettered, confirming the organization’s mission to “take a startup approach to improve education for all students.”
Startup:Education, a supporting organization of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, was launched by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, in 2010. A year ago, Startup:Education committed $120 million to support initiatives to improve education in underserved communities in the Bay Area, for a five-year period.
“Education is the most important thing—and not just within these school walls during the day. I am motivated by what I have heard,” summed up Barra.
San Francisco Superintendant of Schools Richard Carranza stressed how Startup:Education had quickly made a difference. Carranza explained, “It is not about parent engagement. It is about parent empowerment.” He continued, “We want every SFUSD student to be challenged to kindle her or his spark, chart a course for a meaningful future and build the knowledge and skills to achieve it.”
Startup:Education is part of SFUSD’s broader Family Digital Literacy: Closing the Multi-Generational Divide program, which is a scalable, pre-kindergarten to third grade literacy project; the program’s focus is on accelerating reading proficiency for students through extensive, robust family engagement and personalized learning by blending technology into the elementary literacy curriculum and in the home. This school experience is complemented by a family digital literacy program–designed by SFUSD, MEDA and the Wexford Institute—that is executed by community-based partners at the YMCA.
Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Raquel Donoso, who told the crowd of the need for parents to have the tools for family economic success so that the student can achieve, represented MPN. MEDA Executive Director Luis Granados thanked the valued partners in attendance, emphasizing the need to leverage resources and to be focused on solutions. Donoso and Granados know that Startup:Education is a huge step in the right direction and concurred that the city’s elementary students, such as Eric and Miriam’s children, are on the right path.
“I now have faith my son will go to college,” Eric (photo), told the crowd, beaming as only a proud parent can do. “My son wants to be a marine biologist. Thank you for investing in my child’s future.”