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SF gives public schools a $1M boost for college prep: ‘Such an amazing experience’

Lowell High School students leave campus during lunch hour in the Sunset District SFUSD campus on May 25, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Grace Liao couldn’t hide her excitement when she started her summer internship at a child development program that she used to attend as a kid in San Francisco’s Sunset District.

“It felt really good to give back to my community and help out,“ she told a group of reporters and school leaders Wednesday morning. “It was such an amazing experience.”

Liao, a senior at Abraham Lincoln High in the Sunset, is among 752 San Francisco public school students who enrolled in a college and career prep program designed to help underserved youth get plugged into paid summer internships, jobs and college classes.

Grace Liao poses for photos during a press conference at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, Calif.. on Wednesday, August 31, 2022. Liao, a senior at Abraham Lincoln High, took an internship at a child development program this summer under the school district's College & Career Readiness program. | Han Li/The Standard

The increasing popularity of the program caught the attention of city leaders, prompting the Board of Supervisors to allocate funding to maintain the paid internship slots. In addition, City Hall gave the dual-enrollment program a $1 million boost this year to meet a growing demand for such classes at San Francisco Unified School District high schools. 

Supervisor Gordon Mar held a press conference Wednesday to highlight the initiative as part of the city’s efforts to step up funding for college readiness. Earlier this year, he noted, Mayor London Breed set aside $4 million for early college support through the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Their Families.

Additionally, a coalition of businesses has provided a combined $10 million a year in grants to SFUSD for paid internships.

SFUSD Board President Jenny Lam applauded the city’s support for the program. “We must prepare our children and our students for a 21st century environment,” she said.

It’s an “amazing” opportunity, she added, for a “rising 10th grader” to garner real work experience and college credits on their resume before they graduate high school.

Students in the program have gained experience by interning at law firms, biotech companies, and automobile engineering companies. They also have taken classes at City College of San Francisco to gain higher-ed credit before they graduate high school.

San Francisco city and school leaders joined several high school students at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, Calif.. on Wednesday, August 31, 2022, to highlight the school district's College & Career Readiness program, which helps place the students to paid internship opportunities. | Han Li/The Standard

Joana Feit, who heads SFUSD’s College & Career Readiness program, said the students are seeing “positive impacts” from these early steps. She pointed out that the students participating in the summer internships are more likely to go to college than the district-wide average.

”By exposing students to early college and to internships,” she said, “we see that students are building their confidence in areas that may have previously felt unattainable.”

Mar, also an SFUSD parent, has been outspoken in the City Hall budget process in allocating more funding to support the college-readiness program because his family also “struggled” during the pandemic when remote learning took away many activities and social interactions his kids were used to getting on campus. He said his daughter, a Lowell High School student, has participated in the college-readiness program and gained tremendous benefits for her career development.

“There had been a lack of attention on the needs of our high school students and teenagers during the pandemic,” Mar said. “So this is something that I had been really focused on.”