San Antonio’s Eastside Promise

Last week a spotlight was focused on education in San Antonio.  An impressive delegation which included the United Way of Bexar County, City of San Antonio, United Way International, the Department of Education, and Promise Neighborhoods Initiatives toured the targeted schools, Tynan Early Childhood Center, Bowden Elementary, Pershing Elementary, Washington Elementary, Wheatley Middle and Sam Houston High.   I was honored to be a part of that delegation as well.  Are you aware of the tremendous promise that lies in the Eastside of San Antonio? Specifically,  there is a cluster of contiguous neighborhoods just east of downtown, covering approximately 3  square miles.  The promise in those neighborhoods thrives in spite of the incredible challenges inherent in low-income, urban areas.  With a $25 million grant from the Department of Education, we (residents, students, parents, nonprofits, government and schools) aim to turn that promise into success.

For the past 6 years, I have been involved as a volunteer with the United Way, specifically addressing the drop-out problem in some of the poorest schools in the San Antonio Independent School District.  We are not addressing it by implementing a new program – rather, we are mobilizing the parents within the school district.  We started with a few parents- some of whom do not speak English – most of whom were too intimidated by the bureaucratic school system to be involved in their children’s school.  With the expertise of Presa Community Center staff  and Family Service Assn staff,  we have engaged parents, and, they in turn have visited with many other parents about the importance of being involved in their children’s education and schools.  They started parent rooms at each campus where students and parents can go for support, assistance and fellowship.

We have progressed from having just a few parents involved, to having hundreds of parents involved. Several parents, who were understandly scared to speak in front of a group, went to the capitol last year to advocate for Texas public education. The success of our partnership – involving schools, parents, business volunteers, nonprofits – is what led to the promise neighborhood opportunity.

“I applaud each of the Promise Neighborhood applicants for their leadership,” President Barack Obama said. “They are galvanizing their communities to help offer our children a pathway out of poverty. The winners announced today will deliver a broad array of services to help all young people thrive academically, earn their high school diploma, go on to college, and reach for their dreams.”"Communities across the country recognize that education is the one true path out of poverty,” Secretary Duncan said. “These Promise Neighborhoods applicants are committed to putting schools at the center of their work to provide comprehensive services for young children and students.”

“Promise Neighborhoods recognizes that children need to be surrounded by systems of support inside and outside of the classroom to help them be successful in school and beyond,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

It has been a real honor watching the partnership develop and grow and I want to applaud the United Way for being a true collaborative leader.  I think Svante Myrick - the 24 yr old recently elected mayor of Ithica NY – sums it up best when speaking of what led to his success, he says “This is not the story of a self-made man.  This is a story of a community that conspired together to raise, you know, a child.  I mean, that’s the truth.”

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