As the wealth gap grows in the United States, the job market shifts and college costs rise, how do young people make it in the world?
One California city has reached into its tool box and come up with four pieces to the puzzle. Together they provide a pathway for the youth of West Sacramento.
Once a blue-collar town, the city now has high unemployment among its population 54,000 despite being a hub of industry, including advanced manufacturing, food processing and logistics. The skilled industrial jobs are being filled by people who live outside the city, said Ian Winbrock, program manager for the city’s youth opportunity program, Kids’ Home Run.
The school district — Washington Unified School District — serves about 8,000 students in 15 schools. More than one-third are Latino, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
In November, city residents approved a 0.25 percent sales tax that is expected to raise $1 million per year to support the Kids’ Home Run program.
“The city is audacious in its goals,” Winbrock said.
- a city-supervised network of high-quality preschools
- a $50 college savings account for elementary kids, with a future plan to match parent contributions
- paid internships for high school students enrolled in career and technical education classes
- and a free freshman year at Sacramento City College.
“Each of them reinforces each other,” Winbrock said.
The city actually began its universal preschool effort nearly a decade ago, pulling providers together into a network that is now under California’s Quality Rating Improvement System.
Preschool is not necessarily free to families; the network includes Head Start, state-funded preschool, city-run centers and private child care centers, as well as some family child care centers.
Many teachers speak English plus a second language such as Spanish, Russian, Spanish, Chinese or Farsi, according to the city website. About 40 percent of children are learning English as a second language, according to the website.
“We wanted to be able to provide the same high-quality preschool to all parents regardless of income,” Winbrock said.
Each child who moves from a network preschool to a Washington Unified School District kindergarten gets an automatic $50 college savings account.
“Students are four times more likely to go to college if they have college savings accounts,” Winbrock said, citing research included in a report, “Better Together: Policies that Link Children’s Savings Accounts with Access Initiatives to Pave the Way to College,” from the Institute for Higher Education Policy.
The city is currently talking with local philanthropic organizations to fund matches for parent contributions, Winbrock said.
When students reach high school they can take a variety of career and technical courses ranging from culinary arts to agricultural science to computer science and performing arts. Students enrolled in a college and career pathway in the school district are eligible for paid internships with local employers. Students can earn a variety of digital badges that enhance their chances for an internship.
Twenty-four students in 10 career pathways had internships this past summer, Winbrock said. The goal is to have 80 student interns in 2018, he said.
At graduation, students who enroll full-time at one of the three campuses of Sacramento City College can get their freshman year tuition-free. Students who earn digital badges also enhance their eligibility for a $1,000 scholarship for additional expenses.
Kids’ Home Run stands out nationally because of its holistic focus and also because of its emphasis on completion of college, he said.
This summer, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Strada Education Network agreed, awarding West Sacramento a National Education Pathways with a Purpose Grant for the program.