More than 500 students, teachers and community members affiliated with the Oakland Unified School District gathered for the Oakland Promise initiative launch Thursday morning.
Held inside a tent on the Jackie Jensen field at Oakland High School, the event marked the inauguration of a city initiative aimed at tripling college graduation rates among public school graduates.
Oakland Promise hopes to ensure that every child in Oakland graduates from high school with the skills necessary to be successful in college. UC President Janet Napolitano spoke in support of the initiative at the ceremony and campus’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande was present to commit UC Berkeley’s support as a college partner.
According to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, implementing this project is her top priority while in office.
“It is time we end the tyranny of low expectation,” Schaaf said at the program, to rapturous applause. “It is time we break down the barriers to hope that have been keeping our children back for too long.”
Data from 2010 to 2014 indicated that only about 60 percent of each OUSD high school class graduated each year. In response to such bleak numbers, Schaaf and her staff collaborated with the local school district, the Oakland Public Education Fund and East Bay College Fund to develop the Oakland Promise initiative as a means of supporting disadvantaged youth from “cradle to career.”
“This initiative will change the narrative,” said community member Caheri Gutierrez at the event. “Instead of looking at Oakland’s young people as at risk youth, everyone will now look at them as at promise youth.”
With the assistance of private donors, Oakland Promise will provide students with financial support for education at various stages of their lives.
The initiative has also received support from a variety of higher education institutions, including community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, private schools and the University of California.
“I’m here to say that UC wants Oakland students to come to the university,” Napolitano said, inviting the high school students in attendance to apply to join 1,300 of their fellow Oakland peers in the UC system. Based on the number of students who submitted a Statement of Intent to Register, about 180 OUSD graduates have matriculated at UC Berkeley as freshmen since 2012.
While impressed by the inauguration and the plans put forth, Deborah McKoy, executive director of the UC Berkeley Center for Cities and Schools, said the city and the university need to continue to work toward ameliorating the consequences of growing income inequality for economically vulnerable Oakland youth.
“Kids who grow up poor just don’t have access to equal opportunities,” McKoy said. “The challenge from a UC perspective is ensuring that a great college education is affordable and accessible.”