Inside California Education: Kids’ Home Run Initiative

♪♪ Kristen: West Sacramento
is a small but growing city right next to our
state’s capital. Historically it’s largely
been known as an industrial town. Jobs have existed here since
the Gold Rush but it hasn’t always had the
educated workforce it needs. City leaders realized they
needed to find new ways to attract more
skilled workers, so West Sacramento turned to
their public school system with an effort starting
at a very young age. Class: 1,2,3,4 … Kristen: These are the
youngest residents in a city that’s now focused on
changing the past by giving their families a reason and
a way to stay in West Sac. Justine: There were many
people in the city who were sending their children to
preschool outside of the city, so going across
the river into Sacramento, going to Davis, sending their
chi ldren to outside of the
community because there weren’t enough
high-quality preschool spaces in the city. Kristen: In 2006, West
Sacramento city leaders decided to implement a
universal preschool program using grants and public
funds to make high quality preschool available for
all of their children. In a region where 67%
of their students are considered socioeconomically
disadvantaged, educators already knew this
would be a game changer. Justine: We’ve had many
years of evaluation and studies. We were able to really see
the incredible effects that a high quality preschool
education has on children Kristen: Two brand new
preschool programs were opened and run by the city. At the time, the concept
of universal preschool was brand new and the
relatively small city of West Sacramento was
considered a leader. Christopher: It was among
the first in the nation, especially for
cities of our size, and the success of
that program and all the accolades and support that
it got I think led us to believe that maybe we could
do something even bigger. Kristen: For city leaders,
that meant establishing a cradle to career program,
one that would ensure all kids in the city had access
not just to preschool but high quality schools all
the way through college. They call it the Kids
Homerun Initiative and it’s not being done
anywhere else. Christopher:
The Kids Homerun, it’s the most expansive,
comprehensive educational workforce initiative in
any city in the country and we’re doing it, and it’s
so exciting to be in a town like West Sacramento that’s
really leading the country in this space. Kristen: The Kids Homerun
Initiative uses the city’s successful universal
preschool as a foundation. That’s first base. Second base comes when
that preschooler moves on to kindergarten and the city
opens a $50 college savings account in their name. As a student grows, they
earn digital badges for different accomplishments
like volunteering and learning new skills. In high school,
which is third base, students can use those
digital badges to get a paid internship, a real job. Then when they’re ready
for college they reach home plate where they can get
their first full year at Sacramento City College’s
West Sacramento Center completely paid for. It’s called the
College Promise. If they go somewhere other
than a community college, they’re eligible
for scholarships. Linda: What it will
change is the hope and the opportunity. First generation students
with nobody in their family ever graduating
from college, now do not have to think
about paying for college Kristen: That’s the
case for Jeronimo Vazquez, a first generation college
student who’s now enrolled in his first semester at the
West Sacramento Center where he’s attending free
thanks to the city. Jeronimo: To me
it’s very important. This is what I’m
basing my future off of. It’s the building blocks. Hopefully one day I’ll have
a steady career Kristen: City leaders see an
investment in their youth as a way to invest in the
future of the region. They’re banking on the hope
that these kids will someday live, work and run
West Sacramento, helping their city prosper. It’s a concept that
residents are also invested in. The Kids Homerun
Initiative, among other city improvements, is funded by a
quarter cent sales tax that was overwhelmingly
approved by voters. Art: The value that this
community is placing on education in
general I think is very, very clear. Kristen: At the West
Sacramento Center, 47 students make up the
inaugural year of the College Promise program. The city is covering more
than $1,000 in fees for each one of them. College students say it’s a
gift that makes them want to succeed. Rahitesh: I think
it’s really cool. Not only are your parents
behind it but the whole city’s pushing you forward
to do what you want or do something bigger than what
you’re expected to do Art: You’re starting to invest
in these kids from very early on and sending
the right message, giving the kids and the
families that navigational and cultural capital that
they need so that they can be successful Kristen: Leaders say it’s
crucial that the message starts in preschool
where parents are the decision makers but
continues into the years where teens
become invested too. That’s where the electronic
badges and high school internships help them to
develop career skills and brings to life what they’re
learning in the classroom. They’re experiences that
aren’t always easy for high schoolers to come by. Alisha: When I
first started, I was the youngest
person, so 16 years old, and it’s not very common but
the opportunity came up and I took it and it
was very unique. It really showed in my
college applications, it really showed in my
scholarship applications and has really helped me grow. Treasure: I think it’s
an amazing opportunity. You get a paid internship
and you get to work in government. People actually take
you really seriously. You are a working
professional that has the same job duties as everyone
else Kristen: For Treasure
Acevedo, an internship in public works has literally
put her at the table with police, fire
and city leaders working on traffic
issues that affect the whole region. She too feels her
college resume, her bank account and her
self confidence have all grown in the process. Treasure: It makes me
feel great. I feel like they’re very
caring and they understand that they’re younger
students but they can do these things. They are capable of
doing a lot of things, you just need to give
us the opportunity. Kristen: The Kids Homerun
Initiative is gaining widespread recognition for
providing that opportunity. It’s been recognized by the
Federal Reserve and the US Conference of Mayors where
the Kids Homerun Initiative was named the best educational
workforce program in the country, an honor that
came with a $25,000 grant. Christopher: We want to be
the best place in America to raise a family and we want
to be the best place to grow up and we want to be the
best place that if you’re starting up a company or you
want to grow or move your company here, the best place
to find great talent and we’re willing to make a
small investment to make that happen and other cities
are starting to see wow, maybe this really is, if
a little city like West Sacramento that’s not the
richest city in the country, can pull this off,
maybe we can too. Kristen: Parents of the
city’s youngest residents, those just starting in
universal preschool, say they’re proud to be a
part of the Kids Homerun Initiative. No longer are kids
being sent elsewhere for education. Now parents are eager
for the learning to begin. Lisa: It just makes me
prideful that the city is investing in its residents
and wants its residents and their families to do
well and to want to be successful. Kristen: Many say that
success will reach far beyond the families and the
students who touch each of the bases, providing a home
run for the whole region. I can definitely see it. Narr: Digital Badges are a
key part of the Kids Homerun Initiative. The idea was pioneered
by the city of Chicago, where kids can earn more
than 30 digital badges in categories like art,
fashion and computers. Supporters say the badges
provide a visual motivation for young people and
allow them to share their accomplishments
on social media.

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