SOAR Students Ready to Spread Wings

  • June 17, 2005

A six-year California State University, East Bay program that shepherded thousands of Oakland school students through high school and many of them into college, graduated its first class Saturday (June 18).

Project SOAR - Successful Options for Academic Readiness - started in 1999 with 3,500 seventh-graders in 15 Oakland middle schools. The project's goal was to follow the students through high school, offering academic and personal support along the way, to increase college-going rates.

Of the original cohort, about 2,300 students remain and are graduating from high school and Project SOAR this month.

Project SOAR Director Linda James said she's still collecting data on how many students intend to go to college, but a random poll suggests success rates are high.

Of 950 students queried, 648 ofthem, or 68 percent, said they will go to college, James said. "That looked pretty good compared with what has happened previously in Oakland," she said.

Throughout the years, students benefited from year-round tutoring, counseling and after-school programs. Summer sessions offered visits to college campuses as well as classes at Cal State East Bay in Hayward and Merritt College.

"These students have had an opportunity to experience college life at an early age, which we hope served as an incentive," James said.

SOAR participant Anitra Smith, 17, graduating this year from Oakland High School, said the program helped her get into University of California, Davis. She plans to major in biochemistry on a pre-med path.

"I had college in mind from a young age, and I knew I had to work hard," Anitra said. "SOAR encouraged me to work hard to get the grades I needed and be involved with extracurricular activities so I could get into a really good college."

About 500 students are expected to participate in Saturday's graduation celebration at Cal State East Bay with U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, as keynote speaker. Participation would be higher, but many students are also graduating from high school that day.

Project SOAR received $2.8 million a year from the U.S. Department of Education. James has applied for a second round of funding to continue SOAR with a new group of seventh-graders in the fall.

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