By Asia Ciaravino, President & CEO, and Christina Casella, Chief Development Officer.
As San Antonians emerge into a post-pandemic reality, feeling relieved to return to some sense of normalcy, our team at SA Youth looks ahead to facing a unique challenge unlike any we have yet to experience. Prior to the pandemic, the American Community Survey reported that 33,613 young adults ages 16-24, also known as “Opportunity Youth,” were unemployed and not enrolled in school. What’s more, data is showing that a record high number of Texas students didn’t return to school last year, making the statewide 20% attrition rate the lowest it has ever been. For the class of 2020, Latino students and Black students were two times more likely to leave school without graduating than white students. (Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2019-20.) Suffice it to say, the threat facing San Antonio’s Opportunity Youth is higher than ever.
How do we even begin to address this growing challenge our city and our students face? That’s where SA Youth comes in. Our mission is to empower San Antonio’s high-risk youth and young adults to achieve their full potential by providing quality educational programming in a safe environment. One of the ways we accomplish this is through Youth Development, a dropout recovery program providing San Antonio’s Opportunity Youth population the chance to earn their high school diploma, while also preparing them for the workforce.
While in Youth Development, students have access to direct services addressing the inequities they face. The unfortunate reality is that our students experience toxic and violent living conditions, homelessness, issues with mental health, absent parents, family health traumas, and addiction. Our students are born into circumstances beyond their control, and this has prevented them from fully focusing on their education and ultimately receiving their high school diploma. Reengaging them in their education through Youth Development provides them with a second chance at life and success on their own terms. Once students have graduated from our program, we continue to offer ongoing case management support with the goal to continue to remove the barriers that may be preventing them from reaching their final destination.
SA Youth has seen hundreds of students through Youth Development, and thousands in our Out-of-School Time (OST) program. OST is the second signature program at SA Youth, and takes place after school and during the summer for students between the ages of 5 and 13 in South San Antonio ISD. Our site locations operate from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. during the school year and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Summer. Providing quality out-of-school (OST) time programming reduces the number of school-aged children that are at risk of being involved with negative behaviors as nearly one-fifth (18%) of juvenile violent crimes occur in the 4 hours between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on school days. (OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, 2018.)
The OST program focuses on academic learning as well as social and emotional development through our personalized curriculum that includes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math), reading, and physical education activities. The SA Youth team is constantly seeking unique experiences for our students that meet our mission. Earlier this year, our organization was approached by the team behind the national program Lemonade Day to be the exclusive City Sponsor for San Antonio. Lemonade Day gives our students the opportunity to learn about creating and executing a business plan, financial literacy, and developing a brand— all while building and running their very own lemonade stand! With their profits, students are encouraged to spend some, save some, and share some, instilling a positive and responsible relationship with money. Students will set up their lemonade stands at select schools on July 15th.
How does it all get done? SA Youth is committed to offering Youth Development and Out-of-School Time Programs for free. Because of this commitment to providing accessible and critical services to the city’s most vulnerable students, we have garnered support from the San Antonio community through individual giving and foundation support, however the pandemic has had a major impact on our funding. If you are interested in supporting SA Youth, head to our website at www.sanantonioyouth.org. We can’t support San Antonio’s youth without support from San Antonians like you.