By Robert A. Wilkins, President and CEO of the YMCA of the East Bay 

This spring, the YMCA of the USA conducted a community survey of more than 1,500 adults nationwide. Participants ranked providing a safe environment for children as the top priority for a second consecutive year. Local school systems were ranked as the second most important factor contributing to a community’s strength—up from fifth place last year. In addition, 64 percent of parents believe an educational achievement gap exists within their community, specifically as it relates to income, status or wealth.

At the Y, we know the importance of bridging that gap. It’s crucial for youth development, and for the future of our country in a competitive global landscape, that we fill the education gap and give all our children the tools to be academically fit, as well as healthy.  We also need more people to see the need to fill the gap, either through additional funding for schools or by providing the programs our children need to succeed.

Two recent events have boosted the outlook for youth development in the East Bay. First, acceptance of Governor Brown’s education reform proposals offers the prospect of schools being on firmer fiscal footing in the next decade. The school funding portion of the state budget is particularly heartening for schools in poorer neighborhoods, where the gap is widest.

Second, the launch of Oakland Reads 2020 puts an ambitious and worthy goal in place to have 85 percent of the city’s third-graders reading at or above grade level in the next eight years.  More than 100 organizations and the City joined forces to promote the initiative. Why third grade? Because research shows that reading proficiency at third grade is the biggest predictor of high school graduation.

We wholeheartedly support both of these events, but we know that even more must be done. The YMCA of the East Bay partners with school districts in Oakland, Fremont, Pleasanton and West Contra Costa, as well as with groups such as Level Playing Field Institute, Rotary Club and Kaiser, to offer worthwhile programs to fill the education gap. In one Y program at an Oakland school, students build their own computer games while learning computer programming and design as they enhance their math and literacy skills. In Fremont, Y childcare staff receives training at Las Positas and Ohlone Colleges to deliver STEM education to early learners in grades K-8. In Richmond, the Y supports the work of classroom teachers with after-school activities that meet core learning standards in math and reading.  

Funding schools appropriately and setting goals for reading skills by third grade are essential and laudable accomplishments. But think of the possibilities for our children—and their children—if every student had the knowledge, interest, tools, expertise and, above all, encouragement to develop a computer game or build a robot. In such a world, the education gap would be a thing of the past.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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