Monday, November 2, 2015

How Texting Can Make the Difference in Attending College or Not

Daniel is a student who received uAspire Bay Area’s college affordability advising throughout his senior year at Impact Academy in Hayward. After he worked with his uAspire College Affordability Advisor to make a well informed decision about how to finance college, he still needed assistance on a surprisingly challenging next step: successfully enrolling in college. 

Daniel is not alone. Every year, roughly 20% of students from low-income homes -- and up to 40% in some large urban districts -- fall through the cracks over the summer after high school graduation. In this documented phenomenon, called "summer melt," high school graduates who have been admitted to and chosen a college don’t enroll in the fall. 

When researchers first approached uAspire about tackling the challenge of summer melt, we knew there had to be a way to ensure that college acceptance leads to college matriculation and, ultimately, college success. Today our advising of students starts in the fall of 12th grade year and lasts right through college matriculation. Last school year, our College Affordability Advisors supported 950 students in San Francisco and the East Bay with one-on-one guidance through the process of pursuing, accepting and enrolling in an affordable college; this year, our team is empowering 1,165 local 12th graders in 11 high schools and one after-school program. Over the summer, we rolled out the initial component of our post-secondary supports with 930 of our first local cohort. Designed in collaboration with researchers Ben Castleman and Lindsay Page and edtech partner Signal Vine, our innovative text-message-based outreach program has proven in uAspire’s other sites to counteract summer melt, increasing college enrollment by a statistically significant 7 percentage points!

Why use text-messaging? Just as we work with students in the high schools and after-school programs that they already attend, after high school we continue to meet them where they are -- on their cell phones! Our texting technology allows us to support students wherever they go to college and to use their preferred mode of communication to address complicated and nuanced information.

What’s in the texts? We use Signal Vine’s automated platform to send each student personalized reminders of critical steps to complete over the summer for their particular college. Students then rely on their uAspire Advisor’s guidance to walk through the steps of signing off on loans, paying the first term bill, and more—and text us many additional questions along the way! To see the power of uAspire’s virtual advising first-hand, check out the exchange between Daniel and our Advisor Michael this summer. By this time, Michael had responded to many questions from Daniel about signing his federal student loans and using financial aid to cover his full costs. The excerpt demonstrates the support and encouragement that Michael also provided when Daniel expressed concerns about the transition from high school to college.

With this innovative tool incorporated into our program model, we are able to ensure that students are both making financially savvy decisions about their post-secondary plans and getting a successful start to college. Thanks to uAspire’s guidance, Daniel was able to afford college AND successfully kick off his first year at UC Davis!

We welcome your help in ensuring that thousands of local students succeed in accessing and completing an affordable college education. To learn more about our work, please feel free to reach out to me at and/or sign up for our newsletter (

And thank you so much for being a friend and follower of the GreenLight Fund. The impact uAspire is able to make with Bay Area youth is a direct reflection of the power of the GreenLight approach!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

One Year Later: Genesys Works Alumna Peony Yu Reflects on Her First Year of College

Author: Grace Peter
Program Associate, GreenLight Bay Area

Genesys Works Bay Area Alumni Advisory Board,
Peony Yu pictured in the front row, third from left.

An insatiable sense of curiosity has been part of Oakland native Peony Yu’s makeup since she was a very young girl.

Fast forward to Peony’s junior year of high school, that interest in trying and learning new things drove her to become one of the very first young professionals to complete Genesys Works Bay Area’s eight-week summer training intensive and year-long internship at Gensler during her senior year. Last August, Peony spoke with GreenLight about her experience as a Genesys Works intern. We recently checked in with Peony to see how her first year of college at UC-Irvine went and how she’s used Genesys Works new alumni tools to succeed through a rigorous academic year.

Getting into college is often cited as one of the biggest challenges a young adult will have to face. However, for many students, persisting through their first year can be just as monumental – only 66% of first year college students re-enroll for their second year, regardless of income [1]. Simply put, the transition from high school to college is daunting, both academically and socially. Peony admits that one of the hardest things about transitioning was moving to Southern California, away from all she’s known, and living in a dorm room by herself. She dealt with loneliness and homesickness, but explained that focusing on her academics and joining extracurricular activities, such as lacrosse club, helped her overcome this.

Peony also credits Genesys Works for its help in this transition. The organization’s alumni program is designed to empower its graduates to thrive in college and beyond and to give back to the Genesys Works community. Genesys Works keeps alumni connected to one another through events and online platforms, sharing information about college readiness and opportunities for them to succeed, and providing ways for them to participate in Genesys Works’ ongoing mission in their communities. This past year, Genesys Works Bay Area had 100% participation in their alumni programming. Peony chats with Landen Zernickow, the Bay Area Alumni Success Manager, on a regular basis to connect on how college is going and her plans for the future. This summer, she also joined the first ever Alumni Advisory Board and has been accepted to be a part of the speakers bureau, a group of students that serve as representatives for Genesys Works in media and public relations. Additionally, Peony has kept in touch with her cohort and made new connections with the second and third cohorts while helping them with mock interviews, among other Genesys Works activities.

Peony recognizes Genesys Works for giving her valuable support and perspective. “I want to shape myself to be a leader rather than a follower,” Peony commented. “In high school I followed what my friends wanted to do, not what I wanted to do. Now, I am joining clubs and looking for internships because it’s what I want to do for myself.” In addition to taking a chemistry class this summer, Peony had an internship through the Genesys Works Alumni Worker Program with WestEd, an education-focused nonprofit, where she worked as a remote helpdesk technician assisting teachers around the country. She plans on majoring in Biology, but is also interested in Computer Science and Environmental Studies, both areas she intends to explore this fall as a sophomore at UC-Irvine. All 18 young professionals from cohort one that enrolled in post-secondary education will be entering their sophomore years this fall.

Peony eventually hopes to work with impoverished communities around the globe through programs like Doctors Without Borders. “I changed as a person. I want to be a leader now and give back to Genesys Works and volunteer as much as I can,” Peony said. “I learned from my mistakes and I want to help other people avoid making those same mistakes. I want others in the program to be even more successful than me.”


Friday, June 26, 2015

Maximizing Oakland’s Potential: GLF Bay Area zeroes in on two priority areas for 2016 investment

Author: Grace Peter
Program Associate, GreenLight Bay Area

GreenLight Fund Bay Area is in the midst of its fourth selection cycle, but it is the first focused solely on unmet needs of low-income families in Oakland, CA. In order to make a successful investment in Oakland, GreenLight has done immense diligence on the city over the past 6 months. The growing ESL population, surge of gentrification, and increase in traumatic experiences as well as changes in government and school leadership have marked a shift in the needs of low-income families in Oakland. In order to determine which issue areas GreenLight can most effectively invest in for deep outcomes, we are executing the GreenLight Method, through which we: 

● Discover unmet needs of low-income families
● Scout for innovative solutions across the country
● Select an organization that will meet the needs of our geography
● Invest our money, time, and passion into our selected investment
● Measure our investment’s impact to ensure our effectiveness

Currently in the discovery and scouting phase, we have identified two issue areas with the help of our local advisory council that we are considering for investment into Oakland: middle school math preparedness and early childhood care.

Middle School Math Preparedness 

Math skills are an important predictor of future academic success for children of all ages. Studies show that early math skills represent potential in not only future math performance, but overall academic achievement. If a child falls behind in their math performance, it is extremely challenging for them to catch up. Success in math is a vital component to success in middle school, high school and beyond.

In Oakland, student test scores decrease in proficiency from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school. The system is failing students of color, who fall far behind their white peers in both literacy and math scoring. In 2014, only 38% of OUSD middle school students tested as proficient or better on the CST Math Test. For Latino students, that percentage dips to 25%. African American middle school students have the lowest proficiency at 14%.

While looking for innovative models in the middle school math space, we will be particularly focusing on the needs of ESL and low-income students, who face huge barriers to success. 

In order to improve middle school math preparedness in Oakland, we will be looking for models that work specifically to shrink this achievement gap and have had success in urban environments similar to Oakland. Additionally, we will be looking for organizations that may introduce technology, blended learning, and personalized instruction into the classroom so that each child is met where they are.

Early Childhood Care

High quality early childhood care is critical for the successful development of children and economic stability of families in our communities. Research indicates that high-quality early childhood care and education can have long-lasting positive effects, such as higher levels of behavioral/emotional functioning, school readiness, academic achievement, and educational attainment. It has also been found that low-income children who attend intensive, high-quality early education programs have greater long-term outcomes than their peers.

Studies conservatively estimate that high quality preschool programs save taxpayers approximately $2.50 for every dollar invested, by reducing future costs for special education. As we look at this critical issue through a local lens, we know that there are over 26,000 children ages 0-5 in Oakland, with over 28% in poverty.

There is a lack of licensed early childhood care providers in Oakland and more broadly in Alameda County, particularly for infants and toddlers. An estimated 41% of children ages 3-4 in Alameda County are not enrolled in a preschool or a child development center.

Whether in unlicensed or licensed early childhood care, many Oakland children are entering kindergarten unready. Additionally, demographics are shifting to a larger population of English language learners in Oakland with many early childhood professionals lacking training or expertise in serving these students. Only 63% of Oakland kindergarten students were meeting or exceeding teachers’ expected proficiency levels for overall readiness for kindergarten.

GreenLight Fund hopes to improve the status of early childhood care in Oakland by looking at models that will either increase the quantity of early childhood care providers in Oakland and/or improve the quality of providers that already exist. Additionally, we will be looking for organizations that introduce trauma-informed care into their models and include the entire family in the early childhood education experience.

Timeline for Investment

From now until September, GreenLight will continue to scout for national, evidence-based models that address either middle school math preparedness or early childhood care. These organizations will be heavily vetted by GreenLight staff and our local advisory council so that by Spring 2016, one organization will be chosen to enter the GreenLight Bay Area portfolio and work in partnership with local organizations to serve low-income families and children of Oakland next year.

*All graphs shown were originally created by Urban Strategies Council for their Oakland Achieves report.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Surfacing Priority Issues in Philadelphia

Author: Caylin Viales
Program Associate, GreenLight Philadelphia

GreenLight Philadelphia’s annual process – called the GreenLight Method -- begins each year with a discovery phase to identify opportunities for transformation: issues that are currently not being directly addressed, and where smart, effective interventions would make a substantial difference in the lives of low-income families. To do this, GreenLight staff reviews the latest data and research from local institutions and conducts a wide range of conversations with key stakeholders in the nonprofit sector, business community, local government and academia. Through our research and these early-stage conversations, we have surfaced three priority issue areas for our 2015 diligence process: early literacy development, middle school student success, and social determinants of health. Below, we discuss each issue by describing the demonstrated local needs and potential opportunities for partnerships with proven national programs.

Early Literacy Development

Research has shown that early literacy proficiency is the foundation of nearly all future student learning. Third grade reading levels are highly predictive of eighth  and ninth grade reading performance, high school graduation and college attendance. Third grade is critical because this is the year students transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” In fact, students who cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade are four-to-six times more likely to drop out of high school without earning a diploma – a life path that has huge social costs to students and their communities. According to School District Data, only 40% of Philadelphia School District third graders were reading on grade level in 2014. Moreover, reading tests show large racial gaps – in 2014, Black and Latino students showed a 29-point gap in reading proficiency rates compared to White and Asian students.

Early literacy development is a Philadelphia School District priority, and it is the foundation for the citywide “READ! By 4th” Campaign, which brings together more than 50 public and private partners to double the number of fourth graders reading on grade level by 2020. By convening roundtable discussions with early literacy experts from the district, the campaign, and the city, GreenLight Philadelphia has identified two clear opportunities for impact within early literacy development: parent engagement and in-school literacy support. In order for students to gain the literacy skills necessary to read on grade level by fourth grade, both teachers and parents must work in collaboration to provide a comprehensive education in and out of the classroom.

Middle School Student Success

The middle grades, broadly defined as fifth through eighth grade, play a pivotal role in long-term student attachment to school, high school graduation rates and access to college or advanced career training. Attendance, behavior and classroom achievement in the middle school years are key predictors of success in high school – particularly in lower income neighborhoods. In Philadelphia, a Philadelphia Education Fund study shows that sixth graders who failed courses, attended school less than 80% of the time, or received an unsatisfactory behavior grade have only a 10-20% chance of graduating on time. Moreover, a CLASP report showed that the largest proportion of Philadelphia students (40.6%) drop out of high school in ninth grade – a direct result of the challenges associated with the transition from middle to high school.

One of the goals of Philadelphia’s tiered system of neighborhood, citywide and special admission high schools – many with special curricular programs – is that students find the right “fit” to complement their academic record, skills, and interests during the transition from middle to high school. This system of lotteries and special admission requires students to understand the characteristics of different high schools. In addition, it is crucial that students have the appropriate information and guidance to submit applications and take relevant exams. The only support the district currently offers for middle school students are school counselors. Middle school counselors, however, are overburdened with caseloads that can exceed 500 students per counselor. An analysis of school district data by Research for Action shows that nearly 80% of district eighth graders apply to attend a school other than their assigned neighborhood school – yet more than 58% of District high school students end up enrolled in schools that they did not choose. With the lack of adequate counselor support at the middle school level, students do not receive the education or information necessary to make the right choices in their high school selection process.

To address middle school student success, GreenLight Philadelphia is looking for proven national models that provide student counseling and expanded learning opportunities. By integrating middle school academics with a defined support system and expanded learning opportunities, students would be more prepared to make appropriate choices in their high school selection – easing the transition to high school and lessening the chance that they will drop out before graduation.

Social Determinants of Health and Access to Community Resources

Philadelphia is currently the lowest-ranked county in Pennsylvania in many health factors (such as clinical care and behavioral, social and economic factors) and health outcomes (such as mortality and morbidity). In studies of the healthiest cities in the United States, Philadelphia often ranks far behind our peer cities such as Boston, Washington D.C., New York City and Pittsburgh. The 2014 Philadelphia Community Health Assessment (CHA) shows that child asthma, diabetes, hospitalizations, and the forgoing of care due to cost are all health indicators that are worsening over time. GreenLight Philadelphia is focusing our diligence on health interventions addressing key social determinants such as access to healthy foods, encouraging physical activity and remediating unhealthy housing conditions.

Social determinants of health are the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of-life outcomes. Within Philadelphia, living environments and related health factors vary widely from neighborhood to neighborhood. These disparities in access to resources have wide-ranging impacts on long-term health. We are particularly interested in health outcomes related to geographic disparities in access to resources such as fresh and healthy foods and recreational facilities, two major social determinants of health. For example, city data shows that 26% of families in North Philadelphia do not have access to fresh food and over 70% do not have access to recreational facilities, which may be linked to the extremely high levels of adult and child obesity.

GreenLight Philadelphia is looking for national models that address the social determinants of health as a critical component of a comprehensive healthcare system. In order to address the resource needs of low-income residents in Philadelphia, our community health centers and hospitals need to expand their capacity to connect patients to important community resources and assist them in utilizing those resources.

Each of these issues present complex, persistent problems facing Philadelphia’s children, youth and families. Our city has struggled with low literacy rates among our young students for decades – a problem that has long-term social costs related to high school graduation, college completion and career success. Our middle school students haven’t received the support they need during the difficult years leading up to the transition to high school --  a make-or-break time as they begin to plan for their futures and make critical decisions that affect their life paths. Futhermore, our world-class health system been unable to meet the broad, complex needs of low-income patients to keep families in Philadelphia active and healthy. GreenLight Philadelphia has begun early-stage conversations with multiple organizations to discuss their growth plans and potential local fit in Philadelphia. We are excited about the growing momentum around bringing one of these exciting, proven models into our city to address one of these important issues.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Day in the Life for Katie Magyar, CAC Boston Program Director

In September 2013, the GreenLight Fund supported the launch of the College Advising Corps in Boston. The College Advising Corps places well-trained, recent college graduates as full-time college advisers in the nation’s underserved high schools. Their mission is to provide support for high-need students throughout the college application process, serving as positive role models, while also helping foster a college-going culture. Katie Magyar is the leader who makes it all happen in Boston. Here she outlines her typical day interacting with partners, advisers, students and staff as the Boston Program Director.


7:30am – My iPhone alarm goes off. My first thought is that the advisers are already at their schools starting their day. As a former teacher, I don’t miss the in-school hours! Today is an “out” day. After a year working from home, I’ve learned to strategically schedule meetings in the city on the same day. I’m looking forward to a packed schedule taking me all over Boston.

8:00am – Donning my full-length down coat and snow boots that are already looking dirty, I wait in my car as is it struggles to heat up. I’m grateful there wasn’t snow last night and the roads are “clear” (if you ignore the 5 ft. tall snow banks on either side). It’s only about 7 miles to my first stop, but with traffic, parking, and the added weather elements, I know it’ll be a long drive.

9:00am – I walk into the conference room at the Boston Foundation and am greeted by a room filled with familiar faces. It is the monthly Student Transitions team meeting of Success Boston, a college completion initiative aimed at doubling the college completion rate for the Boston Public Schools Class of 2011 and beyond. The Student Transitions Team is made up of representatives from the Boston Foundation, Boston Public Schools (BPS), Bunker Hill Community College, University of Massachusetts Boston, and about 12 community organizations. We meet regularly to review and strategize around the barriers students face as they transition from high school to college.

Today, we review trends in remedial education, a big issue for BPS students. The team is working to understand where students are falling through cracks in remedial education, outline the current resources available at local campuses, and make policy and procedural change recommendations. With varied perspectives and a shared goal to better support BPS students, we have a great discussion.

11:10am – These meetings are a great time for me to catch up with partners with whom we are collaborating in schools across the district. On the way out, I pull aside a colleague from uAspire to quickly discuss our collective FAFSA completion strategy. uAspire and College Advising Corps Boston advisers are doing a fantastic job tag-teaming to complete financial aid forms and educate students about college affordability issues. We have been strategically working together throughout the year and our efforts will ramp up even more now that FAFSA season is upon us. After the conversation, I walk away feeling very lucky to be in such a strong community of practice in Boston. I conclude discussions and travel along for a high school visit.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Closing the Reading Achievement Gap with Springboard Collaborative

Guest post by: Alejandro Gac-Artigas
CEO & Founder, Springboard Collaborative

A major step…

Nationally, there are 10 million low-income children that do not enter 4th grade with the reading skills they need to realize their potential. Springboard Collaborative is fueled by the staggering size and jolting injustice of this number. Having launched in Philadelphia and expanded to Camden, we are proud to announce a major step in fulfilling our mission at a national scale: Springboard is expanding to the San Francisco Bay Area. Building on the momentum of our annual crowdfunding campaign, a $600,000 investment from the GreenLight Fund puts wind in our sails as we embark on this new adventure.

How matters…

As Springboard grows to new regions, we realize there is one determinant of success that trumps them all: local ownership. It is fundamentally different to be pulled into a region than to push your way in. This is one of the aspects of GreenLight’s model that most excites us. A coalition of local stakeholders identified summer learning loss as an unmet need, and they invited Springboard to join their community. This local buy-in is met with significant demand from schools: In a unique collaboration, Oakland Unified School District and Education For Change (a charter network) have committed resources to launch programming at 4 schools serving 480 children this summer. The partnership is supported by the vision and generosity of a coalition of funders led by The Kenneth Rainin Foundation and the Rogers Family Foundation.

The challenge & the opportunity…

In some parts of the Bay Area, less than 35% of low income children are reading proficiently by 4th grade. We view this as an opportunity as much as it is a challenge. Our optimism comes from our perspective that parents’ love for their children is the greatest and most underutilized natural resource in education. Springboard will help school communities get more from the people and assets they already have: their teachers, families, readers, and resources. Moreover, the Bay Area is characterized by a robust ecosystem including schools, service providers, and funders with a shared vision around literacy and the resolve to realize it. All of us at Springboard are humbled by the chance to join this thriving community, and we are grateful for the GreenLight Fund’s financial and strategic support along the way.

What the locals are saying…

“Springboard will fill a critical need, supporting the positive work that’s currently underway in Oakland to bolster high-quality early childhood education, giving all children the opportunities they need to be successful in school and beyond.”

— The Kenneth Rainin Foundation

“Both OUSD and EFC are thrilled at the prospect of working with Springboard Collaborative to offer comprehensive literacy opportunities to students and families of Oakland this summer! We are particularly excited to pilot a program that may potentially build the capacity of our families to become allies in reading instruction. Families are too often an untapped asset, and building capacity of lower elementary families has the capacity to support those children throughout their lives. This effective model also has the capacity to inform future programmatic developments in Oakland in sustainable and systematic ways.”

— Education For Change & Oakland Unified School District

Coast to coast…

It took a long time for the national education discourse to embrace the idea that all children can learn. It is our ambition—and our charge—to prove that all parents can teach. Springboard’s expansion to the San Francisco Bay Area lends us a powerful platform to spread this message from coast to coast.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Davin Auble Named Director of New Teacher Center in Boston

2015-01-18 21.59.49.jpg
Davin Auble joined New Teacher Center (NTC) as Director of Program Engagement in January. Prior to joining NTC, she served as Director of Turnaround Coaching with the Academy for Urban School Leadership, the lead turnaround partner for Chicago Public Schools and operator of the Chicago Teacher Residency. Davin also led Mass Insight Education's district-level engagements in Cleveland, Ohio, and Syracuse, New York.

Davin is thrilled to join New Teacher Center, an organization she's admired since first experiencing their outstanding professional development as an induction coach in 2006.

"For years, NTC has set the gold standard for integrity, clarity of mission, and quality of program delivery. I'm honored to helm our work in and around Boston during this time of dynamic change, with new executive leadership at the state, city, and soon-to-be district levels all setting a high bar for excellence in teaching and learning for all children. As the next generation of brilliant, diverse teachers comes into Boston's classrooms, I'd like to see NTC help to accelerate their effectiveness (and their professional joy!) in equally diverse and meaningful ways," said Davin.

Natasha MacDonald, NTC Boston's outgoing Executive Director, is now the Director of Grant Finance for NTC's national office.