“The data is important. But remember, the data represent people.”
That’s how Lumina Foundation opened a session during the Community Partnerships for Attainment conference. I was in St. Louis with some pals from local organizations, ISDs, and the City.
In 2013, San Antonio was among the first 20 cities in America to partner with Lumina Foundation in a mobilization effort designed to increase the number of local residents with postsecondary credentials. San Antonio was selected to join in this mobilization effort because of the SA2020 community target that 50 percent of adults hold postsecondary degrees by 2020. Lumina Foundation is committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025.
So…over three days, approximately 400 people from 75 communities from across the country talked about our work, commiserated about challenges, and re-inspired each other to double down.
SA2020 made some very strategic moves with our Lumina funding. In 2014, we launched the Talent Pipeline Task Force and, in 2015, released a report created by this Task Force outlining strategies and recommendations for connecting education and workforce. Nearly 60% of those recommendations are currently in some level of implementation, owned by community partners who knew that the work was going to be important to moving our community forward. In fact, we were asked to co-present with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) on some of our work at this conference. I also had the pleasure of joining a panel discussion with Jamie Merisotis, President & CEO of Lumina Foundation and author of America Needs Talent, to discuss themes in his book.
I had imposter syndrome, for sure. What’s this woman, who does not provide direct service programs in education, who does not work in a higher ed institution or a school district, and who does not run a Chamber have to share with this group of super smart, incredibly dedicated group of education and workforce professionals?
On January 16, SA2020 joined local partners from Girls, Inc., City Year, Trinity University’s College Advising Corps, Excel Beyond the Bell, SAISD, and Project Worth to produce the MLK Commission’s “My City, Our Community Youth Summit” at St. Philip’s College. During this summit, we didn’t want workshops where students were talked at, but rather a conversation with students about their own dreams and their perceived barriers to those dreams. We talked about creativity, health, education, and leadership. About 100 students from 7th-12 grades were broken up into smaller groups to have conversations with adult facilitators from the above groups and some others from Emerging Leaders Council, Univision, and the community. We then asked the small groups to share one thing they believed the other groups should hear.
Student after student stood up and hit us with truth about school and life from their perspectives.
Eddie, an 8th grader from San Antonio’s Eastside – wiry and quiet – was the spokesperson for his group. He spoke very specifically into the microphone. “I need two people from each group to stand up.”
No movement from any of the kids in the room.
Then, slowly and apprehensively, two kids from each group – about 25 total – stood up.
“According to statistics, y’all are the only ones from your whole group going to college.”
There was silence. HOLY WHAT??! This was supposed to be inspirational and Eighth-Grade Eddie was dropping some realness. He wasn’t done.
“Now, if you wanna go to college, stand up.”
The entire room – 100 students – stood up. One hundred students knew that college was their next step.
“So…don’t be a statistic,” he concluded.
And then he just sat down as though he hadn’t just shaken the room with all his truth. I made eye contact with other adults in the room and muttered the only thing that seemed appropriate, “Drop the mic, Eddie.”
Let me repeat what Lumina led with: “The data is important. But remember, the data represent people.”
Eddie is San Antonio’s data.
And currently, the data show that we aren’t doing so well by Eddie.
While our high school graduation rates are up, college enrollment, college attainment, and certificate credentialing are remaining relatively flat.
I don’t share this to point fingers. That would be shortsighted. I share this because we – collectively – are failing Eddie.
Sixty-five percent of all jobs will need some type of postsecondary education by the year 2020. You read that right. More than half of our jobs will require something beyond high school. So, it’s no longer OK to say, “College isn’t for everyone” (as though it was ever OK to say that). College is needed. For everyone – our kids and our community
According to the #SA2020 Talent Dividend, created by CEO’s for Cities, a 1% increase in the San Antonio region’s college attainment rate (bachelor’s degree or higher) could yield $1.4 billion in total income in the San Antonio metro region.
As the community organization charged with creating positive community change as it relates to our collective vision, we know that unless you start with the end in mind, you sometimes get lost. We get lost in education policy and scarce resources. We get lost in the need for talent recruitment and for building our homegrown workforce. We get lost in the need for remedial math classes. We get lost in the cost of a degree.
That’s the complexity of the work in which our community is engaged. We basically just keep peeling back layers of an onion…only to find more layers…and sometimes, we’ve got a bunch of peeled back layers and we’re crying and stuck.
The complexities sometimes stop us from remembering the ultimate outcome.
Together, we agreed that by 2020, San Antonio will have orchestrated one of the greatest turnarounds in education in the United States. San Antonio will provide access to quality education for all students no matter where they live in our city. The city is propelled forward by an approach where students learn, teachers thrive, parents engage, and citizens contribute to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century in a way that rivals any city in America. This San Antonio approach to education develops citizens who are thinkers, problem-solvers, and lifelong learners, prepared to tackle our society’s greatest challenges and proud to call San Antonio their home.
From its inception, SA2020’s source of strength — its foundation — came from the thousands of people who stepped forward to envision, and then create, the city we want. The exceptional city we declared we wanted lies within our reach because it lies within us. It is more people in our community having the opportunity to earn at least a two- or four-year degree. It is connecting our community to good-paying jobs, so that more people are given the opportunity to reach their full potential.
SA2020 is about achievement and major progress through people. And not just any people — San Antonians. We are a city on the rise because we are a people on the rise.
We have work to do – you, me, our families, our friends, our neighbors. This conference further energized me. It has proven to me that we live in a nation of people who are doing incredible things for students, creating access and opportunity and desperately trying to level the playing field. I learn so much from these communities. But, it has further shown me that San Antonio is setting a standard. Cities across the nation are looking to us, watching our next move and learning from us. That’s fact.
So…I’m asking you to join me in making this city even better. For you. For me. But, and perhaps most importantly, for Eddie. And if you think you’re doing all you can, then share it. Tell people how you’re contributing and get them in on it, too. Fire people up. But, if you’re stuck and unsure how to jump in, here are just a few ideas to plug in:
- Find an organization that is working in education and volunteer with or make a donation to them. We have a handy-dandy list of partner organizations to start with right here.
- Own a business? Connect with SAWorks and give students an opportunity to experience working with you.
- Read to or with your kids. Every day. Don’t know where to start? The San Antonio Book Festival will be here before you know it – let an author read to your kids, then find that author’s book at your public library.
- Don’t have a kid to read to? San Antonio Youth Literacy can solve that problem for you. They’ll make you a reading buddy to a couple of second graders. SAReads also has a ways for you to plug in. They both happen to be SA2020 partners.
- Are your kids super young? Like 8 or younger? Check out com for some resources on making sure that you’re getting them started on the right foot.
- Drive your kids over to cafécollege. Ask one of the fine folks there what you need to do to get your kids started on the pathway to college.
- Don’t have kids? Mentor. Start with Communities in Schools or Big Brother Big Sisters.
- Volunteer as a family. Volunteerism is positively correlated to more successful academics. Start with these SA2020 partners who offer family-friendly opportunities.
- Take your family to an arts or cultural activity. Go to a show. See an exhibit. Check out Luminaria. Research shows that students who have access to arts – in or out of school – have higher rates of college enrollment and attainment. Start with these SA2020 partners who impact the arts.
- Advocate for holistic policies – transportation, education, economic competitiveness, infrastructure, parks, health, arts, culture, sustainability, community safety, family well-being – all of these are interconnected. Ask your councilmember to consider all implications of policies and budgets and help them see if they ultimately help us get to an equitable community that provides opportunity for all.
This is hard work. It’s going to take time. We’re not always going to see immediate results. But…in a community who can envision such a bold future for itself, I think we’re willing to put in the effort.
Remember…Eddie needs you.