$2 Million donation from San Francisco Foundation

As hundreds of students from Castlemont High in East Oakland filed into the campus auditorium Monday morning for an assembly, they had no idea that an hour later they would head back to class with up to $16,000 each in college scholarships.

Outside, city and school officials smiled and hugged as they announced a $2 million investment at the school that expands the Oakland Promise initiative, a citywide effort to triple college enrollment in the next 10 years.

Each current Castlemont student, from freshmen to seniors, is now eligible to receive money and a mentor to get them through college. The larger aim, officials and supporters said, is to shift the educational arc of one of the more disadvantaged communities in the city.

“Today is the day we are planting the flag of hope in East Oakland,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “This $2 million means that we get to walk into this assembly and tell every student attending Castlemont High School, ‘We’ve got you covered. College is your birthright.’”

The announcement was made possible by three families who anonymously donated the funding through the San Francisco Foundation, which supports community programs in five Bay Area Counties. The East Bay College Fund will administer the scholarships and provide the mentors.

Scholarships and mentoring support are especially critical to students who face barriers in getting a college degree, said Castlemont Principal William Chavarin. Many students, he said, either choose not to go to college because they can’t afford it or quickly wash out of college, overwhelmed while trying to navigate the system.

The city launched Oakland Promise in January, an ambitious and expensive “cradle to career” plan that would invest in students in several ways: $500 college savings accounts for every Oakland child born into poverty, $100 college funds for every kindergartner, “Future Centers” at every middle school and high school, and increases in college scholarships and mentoring.

Currently, 10 percent of Oakland high school graduates finish college. City officials want that number to jump to at least 30 percent by 2026.

The effort has already doubled the number of students getting financial aid and mentoring from the East Bay College Fund, which served 300 new graduates from Oakland this year — up from 150 in 2015. The program is seeking to reach 400 to 500 more this spring.

Next year, Oakland Promise organizers expect to begin opening the $100 college savings accounts for every kindergartner at 18 elementary schools, as well as the $500 accounts for children born into poverty.

While the city has raised $22 milion of the $38 million needed to launch and fund these programs over the first four years, officials said the goal is to build enough voter support and philanthropic donations to cover $35 million needed yearly to keep it going.

At Castlemont, city and district officials promised students who plan to go to community college up to $1,000 per year, with trade-school attendees eligible for support as well.

Teenagers headed to a four-year college can garner up to $4,000 a year to help fill the gaps that aren’t covered by financial aid or other assistance, paying for transportation, health insurance, fees, books or other needs. Oakland Promise piloted the scholarships last year for juniors and seniors at Oakland High and Coliseum College Preparatory Academy.

Thomas Logwood, a Castlemont alumnus, knows how much such help can mean. He was among a handful of graduates to receive one of a limited number of East Bay College Fund scholarships in 2013.

Like many young people who are first in their family to attend college, he struggled his first year, suffering from culture shock at UC Santa Cruz and overwhelmed by the academic load. He failed a class and was on the brink of losing his spot.

But East Bay College Fund staffers advocated for him, and he not only stayed in college but thrived. He is set to graduate in the spring with a degree in sociology and a minor in education. Logwood, who was profiled by The Chronicle in a 2013 article on the odds against young black males in Oakland, wants to be a school counselor.

Logwood drove from Santa Cruz for Monday’s announcement, proof that with some financial and personal support, every Castlemont student can go to and finish college.

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