Spotlight: Richmond Promise 2017

By Mike Aldax

Fulfilling a promise of this magnitude isn’t easy, but the 440 students celebrated as Richmond Promise Scholars on Thursday further proved that the mission of inspiring a college-going culture in Richmond is not just possible, but happening.

In its second year, the $35 million pact between the city and Chevron to ensure every high school senior from Richmond has the opportunity to attend college grew in participation by 15-percent, from about 380 to 440 students.

Like last year, each of those students are receiving up to $1,500 annually to attend a 2 or 4 year college or university. But unlike last year, the second Richmond Promise class will benefit from new programs that aim to ensure they are prepared for college from the time they graduate until their first college course.

Video: 2nd Annual Richmond Promise Ceremony

At an end-of-year Richmond Promise Scholars ceremony at Richmond Memorial Auditorium Thursday, officials beamed at the program’s growth in participants and programming.

“This is amazing,” said Matt Duffy, superintendent of the West Contra Costa Unified School District. “This is our community’s commitment to these students. It’s our way of saying we’re behind you 100-percent.”

Video: Jessie Stewart, Executive Director of Richmond Promise

Along with the funds, the Richmond Promise team, led by Executive Director Jessie Stewart, offers guidance to students on college readiness and financial aid.

While all high school seniors who live in the city qualify for Richmond Promise scholarships, their eligibility requires completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA, and the California Dream Act Application. The Richmond Promise team provides guidance on filling out the complex documents.

This year, the program additionally offers college readiness support for students beyond their high school graduation – and, even more boldly, it is entering middle schools with the aim of getting eighth and ninth graders thinking about their futures.

Fueled by a $750,000 state grant, the Richmond Promise now offers the Contra Costa College First Year Experience Pathway, which assists students in transitioning from high school to CCC.

The program includes a 1-week-long summer math intensive and advising and counseling courses leading up to their first college class. And then once at CCC, they will enroll in classes designed to set them on a career and 4-year university-transfer track.

“Our goal is to build a sense of community for the scholars so that they aren’t lost when they get here,” Vicki Ferguson, Dean of Student Services at Contra Costa College, said about the new program.

But there’s also a plan in place to prepare students long before they graduate high school. A pilot program launched at Kennedy High School this year — funded by the Flora Family Foundation — trains current college students to have a series of classroom-based college and career conversations with ninth graders.

In May, those ninth graders held a college resource fair at DeJean Middle School, where they taught eighth-graders what they learned about colleges and related resources.

“Obviously these events are extremely exciting,” said Richmond City Councilmember Jael Myrick, who was instrumental in establishing funding for the Richmond Promise program along with Mayor Tom Butt. “Like anything, your second year you learn from your first year. Not only did we get more people signed up in place, but we got programs in place.”

Added Mayor Butt, “This new level of support magnifies the impact of the Richmond Promise, which is the leader statewide in funding for promise program students.”

The mayor encouraged the greater community to consider providing additional funding to help continue and grow the Promise program beyond the initial $35 million investment.

“We know that a college degree is a key requirement for the jobs of the future,” Butt said.

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