Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) Scholars San Francisco

November 2014 Member Spotlight:

Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) Scholars San Francisco

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SNAPSHOT:

Location: San Francisco (also in New York City)
Date founded: San Francisco 2011 (NYC in 1963)
Number of students served: 61 – roughly 20 Scholars per grade level (in NYC: 742 students – 471 high school + 271 college students)
Number of faculty/staff: 6 full time staff members; 5 adjunct instructors; 4 part time college writing coaches
Gender breakdown: 60% female; 40% male (NYC: 51% female; 49% male)
Percentage of students who enroll in 4-year colleges: 100%
Percentage of students who graduate college within 6 years: 95%
Other key statistics to highlight:

  • SAT scores: Scholars score 1600 on average, equal to the score of students whose families earn over $140,000/year; above the College Board’s 1550 “college ready” marker
  • Types of colleges: 100% of Scholars are accepted into four-year colleges and universities; 90% of Scholars are accepted into colleges ranked in the top three tiers of competitiveness by Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges
  • Scholarships: SEO Scholars guides students through the scholarship application process to ensure their families can afford their college education. Every Scholar applies for scholarships through colleges and prestigious national institutions. NYC Scholars have been awarded scholarships from, among others, The Gates Millennium Scholars, Posse Foundation, and QuestBridge, each of which covers full tuition for four years. Two San Francisco Scholars have already been awarded scholarships through ScholarMatch and two more Scholars were recently named finalists for the QuestBridge scholarship.
  • Total classroom hours in high school: Scholars spend over 720 hours in the classroom building fundamental English and math skills, which add up to more than an additional two and a half years of English instruction and an additional year and a half of math instruction.

Website: http://www.seoscholars.org
Mission: SEO Scholars San Francisco develops the essential academic skills in motivated low-income public high school students so they will graduate from competitive four-year colleges and become high-impact contributors to their communities and the nation.

SEO Scholars on Social Media:
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/seoscholar?feature=mhee
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/SEO.Scholars.SF
Twitter: @SEO_Scholars_SF

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INTERVIEW:

Q: Can you share SEO Scholars San Francisco’s mission, history, and core beliefs?
A: Founded in 1963, SEO Scholars is a college access and success program, providing promising low-income students with academic services from ninth grade through college graduation. Our out-of-school time education and youth development program centers on intensive academic preparation in order to bridge the achievement gap between low-income public high school students and their suburban peers. The supplemental academic curriculum and support services we provide ensure underserved public high school students earn admission to and succeed at competitive colleges.

SEO Scholars San Francisco is the first expansion site of New York City-based SEO Scholars. In 2011, Adam Karr, an SEO alumnus, Board member, and Managing Director of Orbis Investment Management in San Francisco, alarmed by the persistent achievement gap in the Bay Area, contributed seed money to replicate SEO Scholars locally. SEO Scholars San Francisco began serving students in 2011 and now works with 61 Scholars in grades ten through twelve. SEO Scholars prepares low-income students for college by building fundamental academic skills and character traits. As a result, an astounding 100% of Scholars get accepted into four-year colleges and, most importantly, graduate at unparalleled rates: 80% in four years and 95% within six years.

Q: Who does SEO Scholars San Francisco serve and how are students selected for the program? Can you share more about your organizational focus on serving “the missed middle” students?
A: SEO Scholars targets the “missed middle”—the group of students who we know can be successful in college if they get academic intervention and support starting in ninth grade. The minimum GPA requirement is 2.0—these are not students at imminent risk of dropping out of high school, nor are they outstanding students who attract attention and opportunities. They consistently attend school, which we see as an indicator of motivation, but are not on track to succeed in college and lack guidance about how to become college-ready. We seek applicants who demonstrate motivation and commitment to a multi-year program, and hold Scholars accountable for attendance and participation.

At SEO San Francisco, 92% of Scholars will be the first generation in their families to attend college, and the average Scholar family of four lives on a median income of $25,392—well below San Francisco’s median of $73,802. Approximately 20% of Scholars are black, 46% Latino, 29% of Asian or Southeast Asian descent and 5% are white/other. They hail from low-income communities and attend 14 public high schools across San Francisco.

SEO Scholars conducts outreach throughout the year and admits qualified ninth grade Scholars on a rolling basis from August through December. Each spring, recruitment efforts focus on eighth grade students attending San Francisco middle schools. During the summer, we recruit rising ninth grade students from CBO’s and summer programs, including Aim High, and in the fall, we recruit ninth grade students from target high schools throughout San Francisco. The extensive application process includes two essays, a letter of recommendation, transcripts and proof of family income, followed by an in-person interview. Each year, 24-30 promising, underserved students are admitted to SEO Scholars and begin the program in January of their ninth grade year.

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Q: Can you share information about the various phases and components of the SEO Scholars program model?
A: To prepare for success in college, Scholars participate in rigorous academic programming in grades nine through twelve through after-school and Saturday classes and Summer Academies. Scholars come to the program one day a week after school, almost every Saturday during the school year and for five weeks over the summer. The out-of-school-time academics focus on critical reading, critical writing, vocabulary, grammar and math.

The curricula, taught by seasoned instructors, most with advanced degrees in their fields, is developed by the SEO Scholars curriculum team. Scholars also have access to tutoring help and work closely with mentors. Scholars are not removed from their schools or communities—our educational model wraps around their public high school education, meaning Scholars serve as leaders and role models in their schools and communities.

In the junior year, instruction in English Language Arts (ELA) and math continues and is supplemented with SAT prep courses. We partner with nationally recognized test prep agencies to help prepare our Scholars, and each Scholar takes at least ten practice tests. Scholars earn an average score of 1600 on their SATs, above the 1550 level the College Board considers the marker for college readiness and well above where they could be expected to score based on family income.

After the junior year, all Scholars participate in enrichment programs (e.g., college summer programs, travel abroad, internships) to gain exposure to academic and leadership opportunities outside of the classroom. Last summer, San Francisco Scholars participated in an outdoor leadership program in Alaska, traveled to Morocco, Brazil, and Italy, attended a pre-college program at Brown, and participated in a coding program at Facebook, amongst other activities.

During the senior year, SEO guides Scholars through the college and financial aid application process, helping them apply to well-resourced institutions while preparing them for college-level academic rigor. Each Scholar applies to between 9-20 colleges, works closely with our College Admissions Manager to develop their lists and applications and is aided by writing coaches in crafting essays and personal statements. With the skills developed through our academic program, 100% of Scholars are accepted into four-year colleges.

Once in college, Scholars receive psychosocial support, participate in academic and career workshops, and receive professional and personalized guidance around managing coursework, earning good grades, acculturation to their new environments, financial strategies, securing internships, and effective planning for career success.

Q: What unique programs, initiatives, or accomplishments would you like to highlight to NPEA members about SEO Scholars San Francisco (e.g. providing social work services to students and families)?
A: What sets SEO Scholars apart? Our rigor and results. SEO Scholars provides an intensive academic program from ninth grade through college graduation and unmatched results when it comes to college graduation. The rigor of our academic program is key: Scholars take two classes after school each week and six classes a day nearly every Saturday during the school year and for five weeks each summer. These classes focus on English and math fundamentals: critical reading, critical writing, grammar, vocabulary and math—from algebra to calculus. Scholars complete SEO homework, tests, and essays and receive SEO report cards. We track Scholars’ attendance and homework completion rates to ensure Scholars are at or above 90%.

This supplemental academic curriculum prepares our Scholars for success at top tier colleges. 100% of Scholars are accepted into four-year colleges, and 90% into institutions rated Most, Highly, and Very Competitive by Barron’s. Once in college, Scholars are supported with decisions around classes, study skills, majors, and acculturation. SEO Scholars offers each student personalized psychosocial support through phone calls, emails and text messages, and through in-person meetings and workshops.

The results of our eight-year program are our most important success measure: 80% of Scholars graduate college in four years and 95% graduate within six years, compared to 21% of low-income students nationally who graduate in eight years.

In addition to our student successes, we developed a robust parent engagement strategy and have found parents to be a great resource for keeping students motivated. We hold parent open houses every semester, bring in experts to share information about the college admissions process, share grade-level specific college preparation information, and invite parents to meet with us regularly.

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Q: What do you see as some of your current challenges and greatest accomplishments?
A: Each January we admit a new cohort of ninth grade Scholars who, like their peers, are motivated public high school students from low income communities who share a goal of attending college. In the spring of 2015 we expect to serve more than 85 Scholars in grades nine through twelve, nearly all of whom will be the first generation in their families to attend college.

In order to make a substantial impact on the educational outcomes of low income students in our communities, we seek to grow SEO Scholars through regional expansion in the Bay Area. We are assessing student need and community receptivity to our programs in areas including the East Bay and South Bay. Our vision is to provide programming for students in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, admitting a larger cohort of Scholars each January. Our challenge is to enable expansion without compromising our existing program in San Francisco.

Q: In what ways do you involve and engage alumni?
A: In addition to SEO Scholars, we run two other successful programs: SEO Career, a summer internship program for talented college students of color, and a key feeder of entry-level talent for many Fortune 500 companies; and SEO Alternative Investments, a fellowship program that provides education and training to talented analysts traditionally underrepresented in the alternative investments sector. Alumni of these programs remain closely involved with the organization and, specifically, with SEO Scholars.

The SEO Scholars San Francisco Advisory Board and SEO National Board of Directors are comprised of many SEO Career alumni who commit significant time, expertise, and support to the organization. Additionally, many members of SEO Scholars San Francisco’s Leadership Council are alumni of SEO Career; they serve as Scholar mentors and build awareness and support for the organization locally.

Q: What partnerships and/or collaborations has SEO Scholars San Francisco established with other CBOs, schools, programs, higher education institutions, and/or organizations serving underrepresented students?
A:
SEO Scholars has strong relationships with San Francisco community partners who work to close the achievement gap and prepare low income students from our communities for graduation from college.

SEO Scholars partners with San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) middle and high schools to identify students who have solid attendance records and GPAs but who are not on track to succeed in college and lack guidance about how to become college-ready. We work closely with SFUSD counselors and teachers to ensure Scholars remain on track to graduate and to provide the academic skills and character traits necessary for them to succeed in school and become leaders in their families and communities. Our wrap-around academic model helps under-resourced high schools stretch their resources and supports SFUSD teachers and counselors by providing Scholars with academic preparation and personal support that is typically found only in charter or private schools.

Aim High is an important non-profit partner that offers summer enrichment programming to low income youth in middle school through eighth grade and provides a vital student pipeline to our program. We also partner with a number of higher education institutions to expose Scholars to some of the schools, campus groups, and resources that will be available to them as college students. For three years, we have held Summer Academy at UC Hastings College of the Law. Additionally, our Leadership Council, a network of young professionals who raise awareness and funds, has helped build relationships with campus groups who have hosted Scholars on tours of UC Berkeley and USC.

The Commonwealth Club, California’s leading forum for the discussion of public issues important to the community, has partnered with SEO Scholars San Francisco to provide students with the opportunity to attend their lecture series. Scholars have been exposed to prominent speakers including New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and Endeavor CEO and Co-Founder Linda Rottenberg.

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Q: How have you benefited from and/or how do you hope to benefit from membership in the NPEA community?
A:
In our first year of membership, we’re already feeling the benefits of membership in the NPEA community. Having access to a community of peers with whom we can engage in thoughtful dialogue and impactful partnerships is invaluable. Specifically, as we look to grow – whether regionally or nationally – it will be crucial that we collaborate with other organizations doing great work so we can have a greater collective impact. We also attended the recent NPEA/Aim High local event in San Francisco and benefited from networking with others in the community.