Guardian Scholars Program appear back on track

Carida Ward, a guardian scholar, laughs during a homework session, Oct. 10. (Photo by Natasha Dangond)
Carida Ward, a guardian scholar, laughs during a homework session, Oct. 10. (Photo by Natasha Dangond)

By Patrick Fitzgerald

The Guardsman

After a rocky transition through the summer and beginning fall semesters, the Guardian Scholars program is functioning well with students finding needed guidance counseling and support services reliably available.

The Guardian Scholars Program was developed at City College in 2006 to serve emancipated foster youth exiting the foster care program to fulfill aspirations of attending college. Similar programs exist on other campuses across the state.

Foster children face the unique challenge of growing up without the dependable support of other loving family members. The idea of home is more of a concept than a reality for many of these youth.

“This program has meant stability,” Tiffany Brown said. “It has meant personal connections, networking, information resources, (and) an environment with others that actually relate to my background because I am a former foster youth.”

Problems developed with City College’s program when the former program coordinator, Michael McPartlin left at the end of the spring 2014 semester. Brown highly regarded the coordinator who resigned in frustration due to a lack of clear administrative support. The search for a new coordinator is ongoing.

No clear chain of command

“(There was) no clear chain of command to rely (on) in the administrative hierarchy to function in a way, to know what to expect in terms of what kind of support and advocacy you need(ed) to have especially for a mentor program,” McPartlin said.

The program provides a host of supportive services, chief among them, academic and personal counseling now provided by Guillermo Villanueva until spring 2015 to help guardian scholars overcome financial, emotional and academic challenges in attaining associate degrees. Other supportive services include housing relief, transportation assistance, tuition aid, book vouchers and employment advice to remove educational barriers.

In one fiscal year, McPartlin recalled facing as many as five administrative changes. Currently, there are 130 students enrolled, according to an Oct. 3 letter from Chancellor Arthur Tyler.

Problems rapidly surfaced with failing services during the summer that culminated in the fourth week of September when guardian scholars were greeted with a sign saying the office had been closed until November.  That’s when Dr. Elizabeth Coria, Dean of Financial Aid and Success Programs, who now has direct oversight of the program, took a more hands-on approach.

“It was never closed and has never been at risk of closing.” Tyler said.  “In fact the College stands firmly behind the Guardian Scholars Program and is currently exploring ways to strengthen and expand the program.”

Foster youth tolerate displacement from family and schools as well as multiple placements in the foster care system. A study, published in November 2011 by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, found that less than one in ten foster youth obtain a degree.

Getting back on track

“We were trying to figure out the program, figure out the processes, so you have this transition period,” Coria said. “So that’s where some of those issues came about. You have a bunch of newbies trying to figure out a new program.”

As of June 2014, 100 guardian scholars graduated from City College with 64 transferring to higher education institutions, 35 already completed a bachelor’s degree, McPartlin said.

“The program is great. It has been the basis of my success,” said Guardian Scholar Carida Ward. “It has been why I have been able to continue school, even though I have obstacles in my way.

The program appears back on track, according to Coria who pointed to consistent academic counseling services as well as resolved housing and transportation issues. She made it a priority to reinvigorate outside relationships too because, as Coria said, it takes a village to really provide comprehensive services.

In October, an open house reception and resource fair was held for the guardian scholars to provide program updates, to listen to student concerns and to arrange an opportunity for students to interact with outside resources. Scholarship winners also received laptops from the Backpack to Success John Burton Program.

”In sum, I can say on behalf of our Special Trustee, our Foundation Board as well as our administrators, faculty and classified staff, City College of San Francisco remains committed to the outstanding work of the Guardian Scholars Program and will ensure its ongoing sustainability and effectiveness,” Tyler said.

“It (Guardian Scholars Program) is a great place to meet each other and draw motivation from each other,” soon-to-be graduate Jack Avery said. His immediate plans are to go on in education.

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