High schoolers get a taste of City College: ‘FRISCO Day’ aims to entice SFUSD students to college as schools struggle

The City College Pacific Islander’s club perform a Samoan dance in front of the Multi Use Building. PHOTO BY RAMSEY EL-QARE / THE GUARDSMAN

By Joe Fitzgerald and Alex Emslie
The Guardsman

San Francisco’s old saying, “don’t call it Frisco,” was turned on its head April 29 when 2,000 San Francisco Unified School District high school seniors were bused into City College’s Multi-use building parking lot for a school orientation festival called “FRISCO Day.”

FRISCO Day, which stands for FRIday Successful College Opportunities Day, is a festival with a collection of booths representing clubs and disciplines from all across City College, including the financial aid department, the speech team, the bookstore, biotechnology and the childhood development center, among many others.

The event’s stated mission of informing students of the importance of financial aid and providing college orientation in an exciting, motivational format offered a stark contrast to City College’s dire budget situation and SFUSD’s ongoing struggle to prepare its graduates for college.

Opening new eyes
A City College Tae Kwan Do student broke a board in half with a single kick, causing  18-year-old Patrick, of El Camino High School, to note that “before I got here I thought that it was just another school, but coming here, it’s a lot more interesting.”

His eyes drifted to three more students as they broke boards one after the other, to roaring cheers from the crowd.

“There’s a lot of things going on,” he said.

Booths and tables around the parking lot used many different approaches to entice fickle teenagers into checking out their departments.

Edith Kaueper, a City College biology and biotechnology professor, offered vials of mysterious looking white DNA material suspended in liquid, prompting high school students to make guesses as to what common item the DNA might be from.

“When they found out that it was a strawberry, most kids reacted by saying ‘we really eat DNA?’” Kaueper said.

When they then expressed interest in the sciences, she reassured them that if they came to City College with the same amount of curiosity, she would take care of the rest.

Long way to go
Around 33 percent of San Francisco public high school graduates attended City College in 2009, according to the most recent High School Report, a study conducted by the college’s Research and Planning office about SFUSD graduates who attend the 2-year institution.

The trend in basic proficiency of these new students illustrates the growing gulf in knowledge of basic skills of SFUSD graduates.  Of the SFUSD applicants to City College, 76 percent applying in 2008 did not place into college-level English courses, and 68 percent of incoming students failed to place into college-level math.

The SFUSD Board of Education mandated last year that graduation requirements would become even stricter for all classes starting in 2014, in hopes of better preparing high school students for the rigors of college. The new class structure would help high school seniors finally meet the most basic requirements for UC and CSU colleges. It is yet to be determined what effect this will have on graduation rates, which according to the SFUSD, dropped more than 10 percent from 2005 to 2009.

The nearly three quarters of SFUSD graduates entering City College unable to pass their own high school English and math classes, and a projected $20 million budget deficit next year, will place extra strain on the school’s “basic skills” courses, like Math 840 and English 93. The budget numbers are from a recent memo from Chancellor Don Griffin and are not final.

“The cuts are huge. The cuts are bigger than anything we’ve ever seen,” Board of Trustees President John Rizzo said in a recent interview with The Guardsman. “We are going to have a smaller City College. There’s no doubt about it.”
Future planning

FRISCO Day was planned by “Bridge to Success,” a collaboration of the Mayor’s office, City College and SFUSD.  It was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in hopes of better preparing these recent graduates for City College.

Andrew Tuala believes that if he had a program like this in place when he was in Burton High School, he would be a lot better off. Tuala is a City College student and member of the Pacific Islander’s club, who performed a traditional Samoan dance for FRISCO Day bare chested in the blistering wind. He spent too long gathering his credits, he said, and with an event like this informing him of his opportunities he would have finished school much earlier.

“I would’ve been long gone,” Tuala said.

Mayor Ed Lee addressed the Diego Rivera Theatre packed with prospective City College students.

“You have an opportunity to improve your life, give yourselves a foundation, get that college degree, get focused, and then, the best jobs are the jobs where you can help other people change their lives for the positive,” Lee said.

Lee mentioned the Twitter tax break he recently brokered to keep the tech company in San Francisco, saying they were looking to hire local employees with college degrees. He didn’t mention the $2 million in fees – everything from utilities to use of city property – paid to San Francisco that City College recently requested be waved.

“Compare this to the Twitter tax break. That’s $30 million dollars, and it’s questionable how much money that will bring back into the city,” Rizzo said. “The argument could be made that City College has a much bigger economic impact on San Francisco than Twitter does.”

He added City College has “probably ten times” the number of employees and brings in more than $60 million yearly in financial aid that students spend locally.


The Guardsman