Can independent and public schools work together to better serve
students? This is the question Partnership for Success! in Pasadena,
California, seeks to answer.
“We kind of started as a little mom-and-pop operation here at
Polytechnic School in Pasadena. The idea came from our former head, Mike
Babcock, who wanted to develop a partnership with Pasadena Unified
Schools and wanted to develop a collaboration that wasn’t going to be a
program that poached students from public schools but one that shared
resources,” said José Melgoza, executive director of Partnership for
Success! and a teacher at Polytechnic, an independent, coeducational
school serving students in grades K through 12.
“From that idea, we started off as a middle school program. But we
realized that if we wanted to help students to ultimately pursue a
college education, we obviously needed to expand to the high school
years,” Melgoza added. As we did that, we realized that we really had to
start working with them at a younger age. So we’ve settled into a
program where we work with them from the fifth grade to what we call the
13th year—the summer before college.”
A collaboration between private and public schools, Partnership for
Success! provides a fully funded summer program for students that “show
academic promise, have good attendance, some evidence of parent
involvement, and are on free/reduced lunch.”
About 60 fifth grade students are selected by their principals in the
Pasadena school district to join the program each year. That cohort of
students stays together for the next nine consecutive summers. Melgoza
said they have about a 93 percent return rate each year, losing some
students who move out of the district.
For the younger students, Partnership for Success! is a full-day
summer program that features academic offerings, as well as art, music,
and physical education. When participants hit high school, there is an
adjusted, shorter summer schedule to help accommodate students who work.
They take math and writing classes, as well as a “wild card” class such
as a Chinese language course or a class focused on human rights.
Participants in the “13th year” program can earn a college credit
from the University of California system. That program serves as a
college orientation program, with the goal of preventing summer melt,
Partnership for Success! will celebrate its 30th summer program this
year, expanding from “just an idea” in one counseling office to a
program serving 400 students each year.
As the program grew, organizers at Polytechnic started reaching out
to other independent schools in the area to help with space and
resources. Now Westridge School hosts girls in fifth and sixth grade,
while Chandler School hosts boys of the same ages. Mayfield Junior
School hosts seventh and eighth graders, and Polytechnic hosts students
in ninth grade through their pre-college summer.
The program also works to expand mentoring beyond the summer months.
They offer tutoring throughout the school year and host community events
to make sure their students keep returning every summer.
“It’s a commitment from all parts,” he said.
Partnership for Success! is truly a partnership, not a one-sided
relationship, he added. He believes Polytechnic and the other
participating independent schools get just as much out of it as the
public schools and their students.
“I think one of the benefits to the independent schools is that it
helps in recruiting teachers who are thinking about teaching in
independent schools but are worried that they are just going to be
teaching to elite students, who, quite frankly, don’t always need
quality teachers. They are going to be okay regardless,” Melgoza said.
“I was a person who taught at public schools and I was on the fence
about teaching at an independent. When I found out about Poly and the
fact that it had this program and that I could work in the program, I
was sold. That’s kind of what brought me here and I know a lot of my
faculty, especially the younger faculty that are socially conscious,
it’s a big attraction for them to be able to come and work in a program
Partnership for Success! boasts a 100 percent high school graduation rate and a nearly 100 percent college enrollment rate.
As they move into their 30th summer and beyond, they are now looking
to track their students throughout their college experience. They want
to make sure program participants graduate with a college degree.
“One of my biggest hopes is that they start understanding pretty
early on that college is a reality and, regardless of where they are at,
if they push themselves, they can go beyond what they thought was
possible. We know that whatever their dreams are, it’s most likely going
to require a college education and unfortunately, a lot of students
start to think about college a little bit too late,” Melgoza said.
“Our hope is that they do the legwork to prepare themselves so they’re able to go there and then thrive.”
Visit NACAC’s CBO database at casp.nacacnet.org.
Ashley Dobson formerly served as NACAC’s senior manager of communications, content and social media.