A push to get kids thinking about high school graduation as a first step instead of a final one is going citywide in Patterson. Dubbed United Patterson, or UP, the grass-roots campaign will kick off March 11, aiming to boost the city’s fortunes through a focus on children’s futures.
“We talk about ways to drive downtown revitalization. It all comes back to education,” said Patterson Unified Superintendent Phil Alfano on Friday at a campus rally for No Excuses University. The program wraps higher education into classroom activities, working to create a college-going culture for kids without that focus at home.
“In the 20th century, you needed a diploma. In the 21st century, you need more,” Alfano said as first- through fifth-grade classes shouted cheers for their adopted colleges.
Banners flew, pompoms waved and shouts echoed across the blacktop at Apricot Valley Elementary, where Principal Jose Sanchez led the entire school in doing a high-volume wave again and again before sending kids back to their lessons Friday.
Sitting in a University of Southern California sweatshirt with her red-and-yellow-bedecked first-graders, teacher Niki Sousa said she uses props and slogans to keep the college idea in front of kids. “It’s kind of hard to go into great depth at this age,” she said. “The big thing I want my kids to know is that school doesn’t end at high school.”
For third-graders in Kathy Molina’s class, every Monday brings a college chat. “They asked, does the college have a swimming pool? They can ask any question,” she said with a laugh.
Turning serious, she added, “It’s no excuses. Just the fact the kids know that after high school comes college. I didn’t know when I was their age. It’s neat to see they know,” Molina said.
Three fifth-graders hanging back from the crowd with a Texas A&M banner said they would be heading to colleges with top football teams. “The University of Alabama,” said Jaydrian Lawson.
“Cal,” said Jordan Larussa.
“I’ll try to go to Texas,” said Miguel Gomez.
Watching the event from the sidelines, Gilbert Ybarra called the program “an amazing strategy.” Ybarra, minister for the River of Life Christian Fellowship, said the faith community will join business groups in spreading the No Excuses University message.
“We will make it known to our congregations what No Excuses U is all about, how people can get involved and how people can help,” he said. “If we get people throughout the community behind this, it’s going to make it more impactful,” Ybarra said.
“When I was younger, no one knew about college. It was never on their radar,” he said.
“This idea is starting to get traction behind it,” said Denise Sullivan, who is helping organize the communitywide project. “If kids hear this from kindergarten, it becomes their expectation. Every single student that desires more education should have that opportunity,” Sullivan said.
More education can mean college, a professional certificate or military training, Alfano said. For parents without a diploma, it can mean adult school or English classes. “There’s still a lot of poverty and a lot of unemployed people here,” he said.
No Excuses University piloted last year at Apricot Valley. The program was adopted across the district this year with a motivational kickoff by Doug Curry, a middle-school teacher in Amarillo, Texas, which also has taken the program citywide.
Curry said he grew up with higher education a given. “I simply took one step forward and went to college,” he told teachers gathered at the high school auditorium in August. But, he stressed, kids whose family members never went to college need to be taught.
“They have to have a plan,” Curry said. “If they don’t have a plan, the world will give them a plan, and it isn’t good. Ask them every day. Start early. Don’t wait until high school.”
The Patterson district has a number of initiatives working in concert with the No Excuses program. It added junior high and high school counselors this school year, bringing the student ratio down to about 320 students per counselor, Alfano said. That compares to a California average of more than 1,000.
At Patterson High, all freshmen take a half-year course in career planning, where they get signed into a commercial college-guidance software program and look at vocational interests. Warehousing logistics career courses have a custom-built facility going up, as well as a path to skill certificates and junior college programs.
Plans to send laptop computers home with every student will kick off next year with middle grades, adding high school the following year and younger grades as funding allows. Going along with that, Alfano said, the push is on to bring universal Internet access, with low-cost subscriptions available to low-income families.
“This is not a rah-rah-rah and let’s-have-fun-for-a-couple-of-years program. This is long-term,” Alfano said. “We’ve got lightning in a bottle here.”
The city-school joint meeting on United Patterson will be at 6:30 p.m. March 11 in the Patterson Unified Professional Development Center, 530 Keystone Blvd.