College Readiness Programs Lead to Success for San Francisco Homeless Youth

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Young people graduating university.

At their recent graduation ceremony appropriately themed “Adventure Awaits,” Larkin Street Youth Services celebrated the accomplishments of their latest group of graduates. These graduates came from their Larkin Street Academy, which is the employment and educational branch of Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco. Larkin Street Academy focuses on job and college readiness, GED classes, and post secondary enrollment and support for youth between the ages of 12 to 24.

“We love graduations,” said Diana Tordoff, pre-college transitions coordinator. “Once a year we have a big academic graduation to celebrate those clients who’ve completed their GED, high school diploma, college certificates, transfers, and/or Bachelors degrees. It’s a very special occasion.”

Graduations recognize the hard work and accomplishments of their educational program clients, Tordoff notes, and give younger youth in their programs role models. “It’s powerful for other clients to hear these graduates speak about their experiences, present their stories, and to see everyone celebrate their accomplishments.”

One of the programs within the Larkin Street Academy is the Bridge Academy, a 10-week college readiness program held three times a year that mimics a college classroom. It gives clients a chance to practice college skills, such as time management, group conversations, and assignments in an intensive program prior to starting college.

“So much of being successful in college is learning to prioritize,” said Tordoff. While in the program, clients can realistically gauge what they can do (such as balancing work and school) and prepare for college success. In fact, 95% of the clients who have enrolled in the Bridge Academy program have attended college in the next semester.

Tordoff and Mary Kate Bacalao, director of public funding, credit the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) Basic Center Program and Street Outreach Program grants that Larkin Street Youth Services received as essential to the exposure and engagement of youth in their college readiness programs. As Bacalao explains, “we reach a lot of young people through our housing programs and outreach funded through FYSB. Plus, having all of our services in the same building is great--when students take a lunch break from the academy, they can do their laundry, access a case manager, or take a shower.”

Approximately 3 out of 4 Larkin Street youth who connect with drop-in or outreach services go on to enroll in more intensive educational programming offered through the grantee.

“We recently had a client admitted from community college to Stanford,” adds Tordoff. “When we are teaching in the Bridge Academy and talking about different school options, we can totally say ‘dreams come true-it’s totally possible.’” Adventure certainly does await!

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