By Austin Walsh, Daily Journal
More than $4 million is being granted to four northern San Mateo County school districts to raise literacy rates of hundreds of young students through expanded preschool offerings.
The grants announced Wednesday, May 27, are part of a larger effort called the Big Lift, which has collected $28 million with an aim to replicate the initial effort elsewhere in the county.
The program is a collaborative fundraising initiative targeted at improving the reading levels of students between preschool and third-grade. Its launch was celebrated at the Joseph Fernekes Recreation Building in South San Francisco with elected officials, education experts, representatives from local businesses as well as community organizations and others.
At the event, more than $4 million was granted to the South San Francisco, Cabrillo, La Honda-Pescadero unified school districts and the Jefferson Elementary School District that will be used to help educate roughly 900 preschool students.
Preschools in the South San Francisco Unified School District will receive nearly $2 million to serve 375 young students, through a collaboration with the Peninsula Family Service and the city of South San Francisco.
The other school districts will split the rest of the more than $2 million to offer similar services to students in the northern region of the county, and along the coast.
Currently, 43 percent of third-grade students in the county are not reading at grade level, which jumps to 65 percent of Latino, black and Pacific Islander students, according to a report from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
A goal of the program is to ramp up access to preschool, in hopes that will improve literacy in students, because studies show those who do not have access to preschool are more likely to enter kindergarten behind the rest of the classmates, and will continue struggling to catch up.
County Superintendent Anne Campbell said the grants will go to closing the gap in reading comprehension among the county’s youngest, and most vulnerable, students.
“We have what it takes to get this job done,” she said.
The event celebrated more than two years worth of fundraising, which has collected $28 million to benefit schools across San Mateo County, a majority of which came from an initial contribution of $10 million from the county’s Measure A sales tax fund.
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which has also taken the lead on fundraising, will accept another $7.5 million from the Social Innovation Fund to continue the work established in the initial round of funding.
The Social Innovation Fund is a subsidiary of the National and Community Service, a federal agency that promotes community service through programs such as AmeriCorps.
There is a greater opportunity to lock down another $9 million in funding for the fourth and fifth year of the program, pending congressional appropriations and evidence of the initiative’s success.
Ultimately, through the Big Lift, the organization hopes to raise more than $50 million.
Other program initiatives include trying to cut down on student chronic absenteeism, increasing access to summer school programs and improving education for students in their homes.
Pending the success of the school districts involved in the pilot program, the collaborative effort is hoping to eventually expand the program across San Mateo County, to improve access for all students to preschool.
“The Big Lift will help more kids get on track,” said Hector Camacho, member of the county Board of Trustees.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said he hoped to see the project succeed outside of the county boundaries.
“The state of California will be better because of this,” he said
The districts selected to accept the initial round of funding will now have an unprecedented opportunity to begin implementing more widespread programming for young students due to the fundraising effort, which relied heavily on the generosity of philanthropists and other large local companies, many in the technology and innovation sector.
“These four communities will start making history, with all your help,” said Carole Groom, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.
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