Mike Koozmin/The SF ExaminerBrighter future: The Department of Education chose the Mission as one of President Barack Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods.

Mission district grant will help brighten kids' futures

Despite the Mission’s escalating property values, it remains one of The City’s poorest neighborhoods. The teen birth rate is nearly double the citywide rate, and more than three-quarters of young children live in low-income homes.

Given the odds stacked against young people in the Mission, it’s no wonder that school test scores are generally lower and dropout rates higher than in other parts of The City. But a federal grant for $500,000 — which could be followed by $30 million more over the next five years — could begin to change that.

The federal Department of Education announced this week that the Mission district will be part of Promise Neighborhoods, a program promoted by President Barack Obama and launched in 2010.

An application from the nonprofit Mission Economic Development Agency was one of 20 chosen from a pool of more than 200 nationwide.

The thinking behind the concept, which was inspired by a program in Harlem N.Y., is that children need more than better schools to get ahead.

“I’m getting kids when they’re 5 or 6,” said Guadalupe Guerrero, assistant superintendent for the Mission campuses of the San Francisco Unified School District. “If we got them to arrive at kindergarten with some of those skills middle- class kids have, what a difference that might make.”

The $500,000 planning grant will allow the agency, district and other local entities to begin assembling “cradle-to-career” programs that will help Mission kids escape the neighborhood’s persistent poverty.

“Most of the services are available, but they’re not integrated with the schools,” said agency Director Luis Granados.

In the Mission Promise Neighborhood, children will get better access to preschool, health care, after-school programs and college admissions help.

Parents will receive financial literacy training, as well as help finding jobs and affordable housing.

“Studies have shown economic stability bodes well for student achievement,” Granados said.

Granados said the $500,000 will go toward data collection, surveys and meetings with the community. The planning must be complete by June, when the agencies behind the program will apply for an implementation grant that could be worth up to $30 million over five years.

About 15 to 20 neighborhoods nationwide will be eligible for that money, and at least 10 grants will be available. Granados said he was confident about the Mission’s chances.

“Those are pretty darn good odds, and it’s a big payoff, especially in these tough economic times,” he said.

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

Lifting up troubled neighborhood

$500,000: Current grant
Up to $30M:  Future eligibility
63,000: Population of the Mission
12,000: Children in the Mission
17.6 percent: Poverty rate for the Mission
11.7 percent: Poverty rate for San Francisco
Source: Mission Economic Development Agency

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