By Tyler Lyn Sorrow
Despite deep financial cuts to essential City College programs and classes, the Mission Center was determined to make a comeback as a beloved and necessary community fixture.
Dean Jorge Bell, 67, believes that Mission Center can recover over 60% of its pre-pandemic enrollment numbers by spring semester. Expanded lower level ESL classes, certificate programs and community amenities will help them get there, he said.
“I opened the campus to the community because I truly believe the campus belongs to the community,” Bell said..
On a sweltering late summer day, during a heatwave that had many San Franciscans avoiding being outside, Bell began our tour of the City College Mission Campus under the world’s largest Aztec Sun Stone, or Tonalmachiotl, this colorized version is based on the Piedra Del Sol which was rediscovered in 1790.
Bell said hundreds of tiles were baked by artisans, and shipped to make up the iconic entrance to the Valencia St. campus. “Every year in March, they (celebrants) . . . come and celebrate the Aztec-Mayan New Year. . . they close the street and have a big parade,” he said.
This was just one example of the many ways the campus affected the local community. Bell originally retired in 2019, right before the pandemic. At the time, enrollment was reportedly at 8,000 students. During the pandemic, the campus was closed with the reopening taking place just last month.
Mission Campus was sitting at 144 enrolled students, when Bell returned in July. Since then, enrollment has climbed to 1,400 with every expectation that late start classes will add even more to that number. Bell has a goal of 5,000 students for the following spring semester.
Bell stopped in the middle courtyard of the campus to examine the middle tree out of a set of three. He used a key to check for green under the deadened bark, “It’s a Maple . . . I hope it isn’t dead . . . I’m going to see if someone can revive it,” he said. Even after all of the work that has been done, there are still areas that highlight what happens to a school when it has been closed for two years. Things begin to deteriorate or waste away.
When asked how the City College cuts to ESL affected the Mission Campus in particular, Bell said that, due to demand for lower level classes, they actually expanded two ESL sections to meet the needs of the community. Each of these sections can accommodate approximately 40 students per class.
Bell also said that certificate and transferring degree programs are important at City College, and he would like to expand these offerings more in the future.
The certificate programs span a wide range of industries with most of the programs providing job placement assistance so students can feel secure and supported as they transition into their career.
Parents have access to the The Family Resource Center and Childcare Development program at Mission Center. The Family Resource Center functions like a Co-op for student parents with a dedicated Staff member to supervise. The Childcare Development Program is state funded and doubles as a learning lab for students pursuing their Child Development certificate or degree. Melissa Serrano, the Mission Coordinator for the Childcare Development Program, said that childcare spots were still available and most City College students already qualify.
When asked what he is most proud of, in regards to the improvements made, Bell spoke about the staff and faculty from every area of the Mission Center. He praised everyone who was flexible for this new beginning and acknowledged the great effort the Mission team has put into the building and grounds.
“I am so proud, proud of all of them. I am so happy to see so many students coming in and the level of energy that they bring back to the college,” Bell said.
Those interested in enrolling their preschool age child, in the Childcare Development Program, can contact the Admission Coordinator, Akiyo Mineo-Aldis, at 415-561-1895. The Admissions and Enrollment department can be reached at 415-920-6067. Late start classes are still available for registration.