Monday, October 7, 2013

Spotlight on Partnerships

We are all familiar with the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Here at SMART especially, we know this to be true. We also know that without the strong support of our community, we could not do the vitally important work that we do; therefore, we’d like to take a moment to recognize some of our community partners:  Bingham McCutchen,  the Junior League of San Francisco, and theBalm!

Bingham McCutchen

For over a year, SMART has had the good fortune of enjoying a partnership with the San Francisco office of global law firm, Bingham McCutchen.  Bingham has provided probono legal services for our families on an as-needed basis, held internal gift drives in which individual staff members purchased much needed school and office supplies for SMART, and for the last two years they have provided backpacks filled with supplies for our Scholars. They have hosted celebratory graduation events in their beautiful offices, welcomed our high school students for a career tour, and provided vital funding support of our programs. 

On September 10, 2013 SMART was invited by Bingham to participate in JFK50: Justice for All. Presented by Bingham McCutchen and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the event featured diverse leaders from business, law, journalism and government, including Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State, Jason Collins, NBA professional and Stanford All-American, Thurgood Marshall Jr., Bingham partner and principal with Bingham Consulting, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of California, William Swanson, CEO of Raytheon and John Yang, NBC news correspondent and commentator.  The panel discussed the legacy of the civil rights movement, the importance of continued engagement in diversity initiatives, and how those initiatives are reflected in today’s companies, classrooms and communities.
Thanks to Bingham, SMART was invited to contribute to this important conversation. A panel of distinguished speakers dropped into the SMART office to host a panel discussion for our Scholars, and SMART Scholar, Emerson Herrera, was invited to participate as a featured speaker during the event at the SFJAZZ center!

Junior League of San Francisco
This summer, SMART joined forces with the Junior League of San Francisco, to become the organization’s newest Community Program Grant Recipient. Not only has the Junior League awarded SMART with a generous grant of $15,000, but their partnership has allowed us to launch our first mentor program for our College Access Program Scholars. 19 Junior League volunteers have stepped forward to work one-on-one with a high school student to work through the college application process, which includes choosing a “best fit” school, perfecting their college essays, practicing for college interviews, and finding scholarships.

theBalm Cosmetics
theBalm is a local San Francisco company that boasts a complete line of makeup, skin care, hair care and nail polish. Aside from their commitment to making paraben and cruelty-free products, the generous folks at theBalm are committed to supporting the initiatives of local nonprofits, such as SMART. The company’s founder and CEO, Marissa Shipman, joined us in May for SMART’s 5th annual SMART Goes to College fundraiser. After learning more about our programming, and hearing SMART alumna Liliana Santos speak about her experiences with SMART and her imminent entry into Yale University, Marissa decided to launch a charity flash sale program at theBalm, with SMART as the company’s first beneficiary! Please join us in sending a big thanks to Marissa and the entire crew…they are theBALM!

Emerson Herrera's Speech at JFK50

On September 10, 2013 SMART had the distinct honor of participating in JFK50: Justice for All.
Emerson poses with Condoleezza Rice at JFK50
Presented by Bingham McCutchen and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the event featured diverse leaders from business, law, journalism and government, including Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State, Jason Collins, NBA professional and Stanford All-American, Thurgood Marshall Jr., Bingham partner and principal with Bingham Consulting, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of California, William Swanson, CEO of Raytheon and John Yang, NBC news correspondent and commentator.  The panel discussed the legacy of JFK and the civil rights movement, the importance of continued engagement in diversity initiatives, and how those initiatives are reflected in today’s companies, classrooms and communities.

The featured speaker at the event was Emerson Herrera, a SMART Scholar and junior at International high school. Emerson closed out the evening with the following speech about his life, SMART, and educational equity.

Good evening.

"It is an honor to be here tonight celebrating the milestones of the past and continued awakening of the future. My name is Emerson Herrera. I am 16 years old and I have a bright future because of SMART.  While only 8% of low-income students graduate from college, thanks to SMART, I know I will be part of the 92% of SMART students who will benefit from an incredible college education."

"Many civil rights leaders often speak about the importance of educational equity. The right to a good education should be a given in this great country, but so often the marginalized populations are left behind. As an immigrant, first-generation college student from a low-income family, my life could easily have been drastically different. But because of programs like SMART and the undying determination and sacrifices my parents made for me, I stand before you today - a proud, college-bound student.

My parents left Guatemala in 1997 to seek a better future for our family in the United States. I was only 2 years old. My mother never went to school, and my father barely finished 1st grade due to family responsibilities. Despite their lack of education, my parents still valued education for their children. But as determined and passionate as they were, my parents could not speak, read or write in English and their own lack of experience as students prevented me from having the resources to fully understand the meaning of graduating high school and attending college. College was for the rich, and the best hope I had was to attend the under-resourced schools I was assigned to and I never knew that I had choices in my educational pursuits – until SMART.

As a student at Flynn Elementary, I loved learning and thrived in the classroom. I remember a particular sunny day when my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Obregon, told me she was very proud of my work and wanted to talk to my mother about SMART -  a program that provides motivated, low-income students with amazing educational opportunities and Ms. Obregon thought I was a perfect candidate. The application process was very rigorous but rewarding. Through SMART, I was placed into a great middle school and offered rigorous after-school programming twice a week where they continuously talked about college and how I could get there. I met other motivated students from similar backgrounds to mine. We learned from each other, and grew together. SMART is like a family, and they have done so much more for me than just provide academic access and support.

My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was in 5th grade. SMART immediately reached out to me and my family and offered to help with anything. SMART staff took me to visit schools when my mother didn’t feel up to it. My mother tried her best to be there for me and found comfort in knowing that SMART was there to assist me with anything I might need. SMART helped me escape my troubles by giving me an amazing tutor and mentor, Lauren Cleveland. During the weekdays, she would help me with homework and ask me about my day. On weekends, Lauren introduced me to different neighborhoods and places I have never been to in San Francisco. Having this partnership and friendship with an adult was very helpful especially because she went to college and had experiences that my parents were not fortunate to have.

Unfortunately in 7th grade, my mother became gravely ill and wanted to be with her family in Guatemala. My mother wanted me to stay in the United States to continue my education she desperately fought for me to have, but I felt I needed to be with my family and we decided to leave the two places I called home: SMART and San Francisco. At that time, my parents preferred not to tell us about the severity of her illness and I didn’t know that my mother’s days were numbered. It seemed so sudden when my mother passed away.

I remember it very differently now. It was actually a very bright and beautiful day. We could hear the crickets chirping and the birds singing. It had just rained the day before so the flowers and the grass were glistening with droplets of rain water. I woke up to see my mother pacing slowly since her body hurt all over. She couldn't speak very well but I heard the faint “good morning” and saw the smile she gave me. She knew she had to be strong when we were there, but I could see it in her eyes, the sadness she felt. When night came, my mother asked my father if I could take care of her for a bit while he took a break. When I grabbed her hand and she smiled at me, a flash of images passed through my eyes. I saw the happier times in her eyes, the memories of when I was a child and when she wasn't sick. But I also saw what she wanted for me, to become a well-educated professional who would not have to resort to manual labor to make ends meet, the way she and my father and their parents had to do.  She saw me tearing up and she told me she loved me and I shouldn’t worry about anything because she would always be there for me.

In the middle of the night, I heard the last sigh she gave. It was so sudden and unexpected. I wish I could have had some more time with her. There is so much more I wanted to say and I wanted to believe that a miracle could still happen. But I know she was suffering and now she is at peace and I am determined to honor her memory through contributions I can make to my community and family.

During this time, SMART kept in touch with me. They would email me and ask how I was feeling. When they heard there was a possibility of me coming back to San Francisco, they ensured a place for me at SMART. While it was very hard for my father to come back after everything that had happened, he knew my mother would have wanted me to continue my education here. My father is now a single parent, trying his best to be what my mother was in addition to working full-time. It was very difficult to try to go back to the way things were, but SMART provided much needed relief for my father to ensure the best possible education for me.

SMART helped me apply to and be accepted to an amazing high school with a full-scholarship. Throughout the high school application process, they helped my father with the application and financial-aid forms, offered SSAT classes for me to take and even drove me around to take tests, visit schools and fairs. When all of my classmates were nervous that they wouldn't get into their first choice or any school at all. I was confident. I was well prepared and I had a positive attitude because SMART helped me build that self-confidence. Even today, I feel that I can never go wrong when SMART is by my side.

I am so grateful to have SMART in my life. SMART is an amazing community with a lot of caring people and I wanted to give back to a program that has done so much for me and my family. This past year, I helped incoming families interested in applying to SMART. I took notice of how stressed the parents were, and how they would do anything for their children to get a great education. Through this experience, I appreciate so much more the opportunities my parents sacrificed to get me into SMART and now I am determined, more than ever, to be an advocate and a leader for my community. All children deserve a great education. Programs like SMART should exist for all students who need it. I want to take this opportunity to ask you all tonight to help honor the memories of JFK and inspiring civil rights leaders of past and today, and work together towards a community of equity so that I am no longer an exception, but a part of a diverse and well-educated society we all deserve to be a part of.

How proud my mother would be to see me on this stage today. Thank you so much for this incredible opportunity and sharing an amazing celebration of community and progress together.

Reflections of a SMART Summer

In September, SMART welcomed back our Scholars after a busy summer. Here's a recap of what we've been up to:

5th and 6th grade summer students on a visit to Heron’s Head Park
For six weeks in June and July our Academic Summer Enrichment Program for rising 5th and 6th graders expanded to accommodate 78 students (compared with 57 students last year)! This year, programming took place at one of our newest partner schools, the Mission Dolores Academy. In addition to math and English Language Arts curriculum, this year SMART added both science and history coursework, and of course, continued our much-loved tradition of science and environmentally-focused Friday field trips (including excursions to the new Exploratorium and Heron’s Head Park).

This summer also marked the kick-off of summer programming for our College Access Program (CAP). The
CAP Scholars during a Candlestick Point clean-up
 project with Literacy for Environmental Justice
CAP Social Seeds summer program focused on introducing and exploring the topic of environmental justice to SMART high school students. High school Scholars who did not have commitments to summer internships or jobs participated in programming with SMART and learned about environmental justice and injustice within their global, domestic, and local communities. To connect what students learned to the real world, the students did community service around San Francisco neighborhoods that faced, and still face, environmental injustice. The structure of the Social Seeds program mimicked a college course, so over the course of four weeks, students were paired up to work cooperatively on projects with a focus on environmental justice and presented their work at the end of the program. Because we aim to expose students in our College Access Program to a plethora of career options, during the summer months CAP students also went on career tours to learn about how different work places function and what types of career opportunities are available. This summer, students visited the law offices of Bingham McCutchen, Expedia, and Twitter.

Last, but certainly not least, this summer SMART escorted 19 high school students on our first-ever Southern California College Tour. Scholars visited nine different colleges (including Claremont Schools, UC Schools, and San Diego State University), and came back to SMART with a new excitement about their college prospects. To learn more about the tour, check out this tumblr blog, created by Laura Medina, one of SMART’s newest staff members and a SMART alumna!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Liliana's Speech at SMART Goes to College

Liliana and Nonoko Sato at SMART Goes to College 2013

Good evening! My name is Liliana Santos and some of you may remember me from the speech I gave 2 years ago at Town School for SMART goes to College. Being here tonight, I am overwhelmed with a mixed sense of peace, joy, and bittersweet happiness. I remember stepping onto Burke’s campus for the very first time as a graduating 5th grader. I had just been accepted into the SMART program, and I wasn't quite sure what was happening but I remember I was very excited and also a bit nervous. Standing here before you, I feel pretty much the same. But a couple of things have changed. I am now a senior at Lick-Wilmerding High school and I will be graduating in exactly 31 days. Speaking to you today for a program that I love and that has changed my life, at a school that helped me grow and nurtured me, I feel that I have come full-circle and I am so grateful for this opportunity.
To start things off, I’d like to make a confession. Ever since I was in 6th grade I wanted to attend Yale University. A pretty big dream for a sixth grader, but the origin might surprise you. As a middle schooler, I came across the Gossip Girl books. For those of you that haven’t read these books yet, they center around an elite group of students in high school from the Upper East Side. And, one of the main characters, Blair, who was my favorite character, really really wanted to go to Yale. Now, at that time, I had no clue what Upper East Side was or what an Ivy League school was. All I knew was that Blair wanted to go to Yale and I thought to myself– Well, if Blair can do it, I can too. “Going to Yale” became a metaphor for what I could achieve if I worked hard and believed in myself.
This past year as I applied to colleges, I realized just how competitive the process would be. As my mailbox began overflowing with college pamphlets I became more and more intimidated by the whole ordeal. Most of my classmates at Lick lead privileged lives and were expected to attend college their whole lives and fully supported through the application process. I on the other hand would be the first in my family to go through this process. Often, I felt very insecure about my qualifications and my own background. I was born in San Salvador, El Salvador and moved to the United States at a young age. When I was three years old, on April 15th 1998, my father was shot five times outside of our apartment building. My mother was left with two girls to raise on her own with the help of my grandmother and auntie. My uncle who is currently living with us, developed an addiction to alcohol and became more dependent on our family. In El Salvador, my greatest achievement would've been to not get pregnant during high school or to be a good wife. I would not have been encouraged to excel in school. Most of my family never reached past high school. And, no one has graduated from college!
But, despite these hardships and obstacles, I was able to persevere. SMART recognized me and saw my potential. As immigrants with low-income means, my family would not have been able to afford, much less become aware of a school like Burke’s without SMART’s help. At Burke’s I was offered art, music and theater classes, multiple sports teams (many of which I was not so good at), and teachers who had the time and desire to work with me personally.  Burke’s literally helped me come out of my shell and showed me how much I loved learning. Following on to Lick has been equally rewarding. In fact, their motto – head, heart and hands – has shaped my perspective as a global citizen, which in turn has shaped what I want to do with my life and how I want to do it; engaging in my community and helping those around me. 
Contrastingly, my public elementary school didn't offer any art classes. At church, many of the students my age who live in the Mission District are currently signing up for the Army or City College. Many have had to take night classes to earn enough credits to graduate, and many are unsure about what comes after high school. Unlike me, they were not provided with the opportunity to attend private schools or choose a school that fit them like a glove where they could have teachers who encouraged and strengthened them.
SMART goes beyond private schooling. When I was creating my college list, my college counselor recommended a lot of great colleges but Yale was not on that list. NONE of my top choices were on the list which was understandable seeing as my dream schools were highly selective and I was competing with my peers at Lick and elsewhere who had access to and could afford extra prep courses, extra tutoring, and private college counselors - whereas my family could barely afford to buy an SAT prep book. But, SMART came to my rescue with its College Access Program. During the summer they helped me with an essay writing bootcamp, SAT prep courses (with a book!), practice tests, and even tutors. And, let’s not forget SMART’s signature and never-ending stream of personal cheerleading. Without this extra support from SMART, I would not have been so confident in adding my top choice colleges to the list of schools I would apply to.
Last month, after I received my college decisions, I called Nonoko to tell her I had some very “bad news.” (emphasize the quotes) I asked her to sit down and take a deep breathe, I could hear her anticipating the worst. I told her: “I am very sad to tell you…that I was accepted to UC Santa Barbara, Lewis & Clark, UC San Diego, CSU Monterey Bay/Sacramento/Long Beach and Humboldt State. AND, I received a full ride to Stanford, Columbia, Amherst, Brown…oh, and Yale.” 
It took her awhile for the news to sink in.  Her response reflected my initial reaction to the incredible news. She was proud of my achievements and excited about all my incredible options!
From the beginning, SMART was the one to see the potential in me. I am thrilled to report that I will be joining the Class of 2017 at Yale University next year. My childhood dream and hope has become reality!  I am especially excited by the opportunity to study abroad, to study alongside current and future leaders, and to become a leader myself. I thank God for the blessing of having SMART in my life. SMART has helped me learn to be thankful for all my blessings and, above all, to never give up! I will take these lessons with me as I embark on the next chapter of my life at Yale. 
So to SMART and all its donors sitting here tonight, I am eternally grateful to you!  On behalf of all the future SMART students, I sincerely hope you will continue your support of this amazing program so that they too will have the same incredible opportunities I have had. Perhaps in a few years from now, I will be standing before you once again – next time in Louboutin heels– introducing the program for the evening and recounting the continued successes your support helped me to achieve.
Thank you all and thank you SMART.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Volunteer Profile: Sara Linderman

Sara and Melissa 
Sara has been a volunteer mentor with SMART since the fall of 2011.  She was looking for a volunteer opportunity that would enable her to work with kids, and more importantly, would allow her to develop a deep, sustainable, one-on-one relationship. She came across SMART, and the more she learned about the program's mission, approach, and results, the more excited she became. Sara is mentoring Melissa, an 8th grader at The San Francisco School.  “Melissa is inspiring in her intelligence (particularly her math and science skills) - but then again, all the SMART scholars are.  Her immense creativity is her most defining characteristic.  She taught herself how to knit by watching YouTube videos. She makes friendship bracelets that she gives away to her friends. She has an insatiable appetite for reading - particularly Manga (Japanese comic books) - and she transports me into the books she reads through her stories.  And aside from the stories - she generally talks my ear off - she is even more loquacious than I was at her age, and I got in trouble constantly for talking in school.”

Sara and Melissa do their best to hang out twice per month.  “I love cooking - and this is a passion I've shared with Melissa, who has come to love it, too (she actually noted she might want to be a chef in a high school application essay) - so we do that together.  She's especially into baking (her favorite was making "stained glass cookies" last holiday season - she's still talking about it).  That said, we try to mix it up - once in a while, a movie; we've gone horseback riding; we've gone to House of Air, to the zoo - whatever sounds fun. I try to introduce Melissa to things she wouldn't otherwise get to do.”

One accomplishment that Sara is particularly proud of is her work with Melissa to complete her high school applications. “Melissa is Chinese - her parents were born there and speak (only) Cantonese at home - so while she's obviously fluent in English, she struggles with grammar, both written and spoken. She recognizes this weakness and is actively and continuously working to improve - when we're together, I gently point out errors and we talk grammar rules so she can keep improving. Melissa just finished up and submitted her high school applications, which required writing an extensive set of essays.  We collaborated on them over dinner a couple times, and then I worked with her through the editing process.  It was awesome to see her work so hard and do such a wonderful job on something that I know is a challenge for her - and to know that I played a (very small) part in her accomplishment.”

In addition to the amazing work Sara does as a mentor, Sara has also been instrumental in supporting SMART in other ways. She sits on the Volunteer Advisory Board CAP Committee, and in preparation for CAP’s upcoming career panel, Sara recruited 11 panelists in various professions to talk to our high school Scholars about career opportunities. Sara also participated in SMART’s recent Fundraising Challenge through Crowdrise raising $1,000 to support SMART programming. Thank you so much, Sara, for all you do for SMART and the students we serve!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

MAP: Exploring diversity and culture through the lens of San Francisco non-profits

Youth-based San Francisco non-profits share their work with MAP Scholars
MAP students started the New Year at SMART by learning about the diversity, culture, and history of the various neighborhoods of San Francisco: the Mission District, Bayview and Hunter’s Point, the Sunset, Chinatown, the Richmond District, and the Excelsior. We celebrated the diversity we see at SMART, and also cherished what we have in common as people; our sense of family, home, friends, and culture are ways in which we connect and relate to one another.

MAP scholars then delved deeper to discuss the concept of inequity, and analyzed the socioeconomic inequities that we see in San Francisco. We are continuing to look at these inequities through the lens of non-profit organizations, and examine how non-profit organizations address these socioeconomic inequities.

Last week, SMART had the privilege of hosting guest speakers from other youth-based non-profit organizations such as YearUP, SFCASA, Jamestown Community Center, and Mayor's Youth Employment and Education Program (MYEEP) on a panel. SMART scholars practiced their interpersonal and public speaking skills by asking the panelists carefully thought out questions, and participated in an engaging conversation.

At the close of this unit, MAP students will create their own youth-based non-profit organization, and present a ‘business pitch’ to SMART staff, tutors, and peers. They will craft their mission statement, their vision statement, and determine the staffing, fundraising, and resources they will need to start their own NPO. We are excited to expand and re-energize our civic engagement and sense of community!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Celebrating CAP Success!

Ana Maria (CAP Program Manager), and CAP seniors celebrate completing college applications!

We are more than half way through the academic year, and our first year of comprehensive CAP programming has been a success! All eligible seniors submitted their college applications by the deadlines. Students were required to apply to at least four California State University campuses, four University of California campuses and four private colleges – two of which needed to be out of state. On average SMART seniors applied to 15 campuses each, and 73% of our students have already been admitted to at least one campus, if not more. Acceptances will continue to roll in through April, with students making final decisions by May 1st. In the first week of January we hosted a FAFSA completion day, and 100% of seniors submitted their FAFSAs, and are now working on scholarships, with a goal of applying to at least 10 each.

We are also proud to announce that SMART is offering our first ever Northern California College Tour this month. Sophomores, juniors and seniors have been invited to visit a wide variety of campuses to determine their interests, and specifically for seniors, to help them decide which campus is the best for them. Students will be visiting 2-6 campuses each over the course of the week. We will tour: Santa Clara University, San Jose State University, Stanford, UC Davis, St. Mary’s College, UC Santa Cruz, CSU Monterrey Bay, Dominican University and Sonoma State. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

College Essay - Alitzel, Class of 2013

Alitzel, class of 2013, is a senior at Urban School
During our official first year of our fully developed College Access Program, we celebrate the accomplishments of our high school students who boldly share their incredible journeys in their college application essays. In the coming months, we look forward to highlighting college acceptance notices, as well as student stories.

We begin by highlighting a poignant and beautifully presented essay by Alitzel.

"I had never seen so many girls in the same identical uniform before. The little chapel on Broadway street swam in navy and white plaid suits, and I felt like I was
drowning in them. Knee-length skirts with pleats and almost black blazers that I had
only seen businessmen in movies wear, cloaked the minuscule girls. The royal blue
chiffon ties were all tied methodically under the harsh square collars of their oxford
shirts, while I looked down at my own tie-less neck and felt my stomach drop. It
was my first day of school and I was clad in an inadequate uniform. Not only was my
uniform inadequate, but I, myself, felt inadequate. My caramel skin did not match
the milky skin of the girls around me and I found my eyes searching the crowd of
girls hungrily for a familiar face.

Walking into the grandiose marble mansion that morning, I knew instantly
that I was far from home. I realized that although I was still in San Francisco, I felt
like a tourist. The decaying bungalows I was used to learning math and social
studies in could never compare to the Corinthian columns which supported the
foundation of the palace I would now call my school.

The elementary school I had left, Buena Vista, did not match the high economic
standards that Convent of the Sacred Heart held, but it was not void of all richness.
In Kindergarten, I befriended a girl named Jackie, as we colored in the garden. She
was Jewish, went to temple, had a nanny, and her parents were lawyers who spoke
Spanish as a second language. I, on the other hand, lived in a small apartment, rarely
went to church, and came from immigrant parents who were learning English as a
second language. From this early stage stained with finger paints, I was engrossed in
cultures different from mine and grew to add others’ experiences and beliefs into
my own radiant painting of the world around me.

During my first weeks at Convent, I got to know the girls who would become
my best friends. When I introduced myself with my name, Alitzel, they all crowded
around me and exclaimed, “That’s so cool! Can you say it again?” Soon after, I
decided to introduce myself as “Ali” for the girls who could not pronounce my name,
but also to save me from cringing every time someone mispronounced it.
I taught the girls how to take public transportation, introduced them to the
best taquerias in the Mission and shared my own life story. I will never forget the
look of shock on my friend’s faces when I told them my parents chose not to become
naturalized citizens of the United States, or the shock I felt when they could not
point to Mexico on a map.

Though I left both schools years ago, the experiences I had at Buena Vista and
Convent are engrained in me forever. Through the conversations I hold, the
opinions I argue and in the way I maneuver around the world, it is evident that the
richness from all the diverse experiences in my life are worth more than each
individual experience alone."