by Kim Silverstein, MSW, Development Officer at Green Dot Public Schools National
Not far from the affluent and middle class neighborhoods of Los Angeles is a world that feels like it can’t possibly be part of the same city. In many cases, this world exists just on the other side of the freeways that divide metropolitan Los Angeles along stark racial and socioeconomic lines.
As a parent, I take particular notice of LA’s schools. One of my children attends our local LAUSD school. But my mixed-income community is worlds apart from the city’s low-income neighborhoods where schools are persistently low-performing. Such failing schools reinforce a cycle of poverty which directly challenges America’s promise of social mobility based on talent and effort.
The visible disparity of resource allocation is no more apparent than in the communities where Green Dot schools are located. And yet, a Green Dot school is a gateway to opportunity. Nine out of ten Green Dot students graduate and more than 75% go on to college.
My own academic upbringing was in strong public schools in California, and I was privileged to attend two top universities for undergraduate and graduate studies. My parents supported my schooling and were my advocates as I pursued the best education options. Since graduating college and earning a Master’s degree in social work, I have dedicated my career to organizations that build communities and address inequities in our society.
I joined the Development team at Green Dot to work with funders who help Green Dot bridge disparities in state per-pupil funding levels for charter schools, meet costs that don’t exist in traditional public school (i.e. facilities) and invest in promising new initiatives like teacher coaching and evaluation, principal training, social-emotional supports, and college persistence.
The Road to College Starts Here
Shortly after I began at Green Dot, we hosted a group of funding partners in a visit to Locke High School in Watts. As I pulled up to Locke’s main entrance, I saw students in uniforms, laughing and smiling as they headed to class. Bright colored banners hung above the entrance, boasting pride and school spirit. Green Dot staff were greeting each student by name. This used to be one of the worst schools in California before Green Dot came along?
Green Dot has completely transformed Locke since taking it over from LAUSD in 2008 when the school had a national reputation for danger, dysfunction, and chronically low performance. At that time the graduation rate was 28% with only 5% of students eligible to apply to a state university. Today the graduation rate is 80% with over 60% of students going on to college.
Before the visit began, I roamed the halls noticing the visual cues that indicate you’re in Green Dot space—college pennants and inspiring quotes from humanity’s most influential leaders dot the walls and above every single door is a green sign that reads The Road to College Starts Here.
Every time a student walks through a door, it is part of her journey towards the goal of a college degree and the benefits that can accrue from that level of success. This reinforces the message that your school, and the entire Green Dot organization, believes in you. Our students come to internalize that belief and turn it into confidence.
A sign on one office door reads “Probation Officer” and above is one of our Road to College signs. I was struck by the dissonance between those two realities. A student entering that doorway has started down a path where the data tells us that it will be a struggle to find work and establish lasting social stability. The other sign suggests a genuine alternative in which your school is a partner in helping you create a bright future.
No student, in any community, can realize his fullest potential on his own, but schools play a disproportionately large role in the life success of children in low-income communities where resources are scarce and few external supports exist. Even with good schools, students face enormous hurdles getting to and through college and require exceptional endurance.
See Transformation Firsthand
At a Green Dot school tour, we discuss the challenges facing public education and the real solutions Green Dot is providing. We visit classrooms and learn about effective teaching that accelerates all students despite wide achievement levels and abilities. There is a panel with students and teachers talking about their experiences and aspirations in conversation with our guests. The students and teachers are deeply grateful to be witnessed. The simple act of making the journey to the school to listen and learn empowers the growth taking place.
I can guarantee that you will also be transformed by the experience. Touring a Green Dot school will change your perceptions about the richness and potential of Los Angeles, the work of charters, and the humanity of the people who are part of our schools. And when you cross back over the freeway and return to your own communities, you will likely feel optimistic about the future.
Please join us for one of our upcoming school tours. All of us at Green Dot Public Schools look forward to welcoming you. To learn more and to RSVP,click the link below.