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April 21, 2011

Opinion: Silicon Valley's talent can help students rise above school challenges

Sixty minutes. In any given hour on any given weekday, 107 California public school students will attend their final class, thereafter embarking on a life forever branded as a dropout. Six California teens will give birth to a child. Another half-dozen juveniles will be arrested for a felony. Meanwhile, thousands of unskilled teens seek jobs to support themselves and their families against a headwind of 34 percent unemployment in their age group and skill level.

During that very hour, dozens of California technology companies will post hundreds of job listings for candidates with advanced science or engineering skills. Failing to find them among the graduates of California schools, the companies will look out of state or overseas.

In that same 60 minutes, 7-year-old Esperanza will sit down with a caring volunteer in an undersized chair in the Reading Partners program at Horace Mann Elementary School in the shadow of San Jose City Hall. Together, they will read a favorite book of Esperanza’s about horses. They will recite vocabulary words, spell them, and create new sentences with them. Esperanza will write a sentence about flying rabbits, and they’ll laugh. Esperanza will tell her tutor a secret about her little brother: That he speaks no English, because he’s too young to attend school.

Esperanza will then return to class. She will not know about the many studies demonstrating that the assistance of her tutor will vastly accelerate her learning. She won’t know how it will likely boost her self-esteem along with her test scores. She won’t know how it will improve her chances of graduating from college. Esperanza will know, however, that she has a caring adult friend, and that she’ll see her friend again next week.

As the Legislature contemplates additional spending cuts to California public schools, the state’s chronic shortfalls have relegated the annual budgetary devastation of education to a mere ritual. This era of scarcity can lull us into fatalism, or it can challenge us to renew our collective commitment to our kids.

We have extraordinary resources in Silicon Valley to address the educational needs of our kids. We are the most innovative, skilled and creative workforce on the planet. Putting aside the important debate about public resources, each of us faces a personal choice: Can we spare 60 minutes out of our week to help a child learn?

We can.

To this end, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and San Jose City Council members will launch 1000 Hearts for 1000 Minds. Led by Bridgelux CEO Bill Watkins and such Silicon Valley companies as DCM, SAP, SunPower and Wyse, we will leverage the world’s most talented workforce to aid the critical mission of our public schools to strengthen the reading, math and science skills of K-8 students.

1000 Hearts for 1000 Minds has a simple approach. It will empower interested adults to find a convenient, well-managed and proven tutoring or mentoring program operated by nonprofit partners who screen, train and supervise the volunteers. Those partners include such extraordinary organizations as Boys and Girls Club, Citizen Schools, Girls for a Change, Grail Family Services, Reading Partners and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. Together, we broaden the impact of these organizations’ extraordinary work to a scale that can move the needle on student achievement in the valley.

Please join us. To learn more about 1000 Hearts for 1000 Minds, go to www.hearts4minds.org or call Jennifer Kim Luc at the city of San Jose at 408-535-4928. We seek adults ready to inspire children to achieve. One hour a week can change a child — and you — forever.

Sam Liccardo represents downtown District 3 on the San Jose City Council, and Carl Guardino is CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. They created “1,000 Hearts for 1,000 Minds” and wrote this article for this newspaper.

Mercury News/ Source.

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