Tag Archives: Academy for Success

Santa Barbara’s Recipe for Academic Success

The Santa Barbara Education Foundation is not your normal nonprofit supporting students. Rather it is like an educational Robin Hood, matching donors with students who need it most. 

Students like Antonña Mollo. During her freshman year, Mollo’s mother died of an overdose and her father was sentenced to 12 years in jail.  

“I grew up so angry at the world, constantly asking ‘why me?’” Mollo says. “Gangs and violence became my sense of peace. My crazy life spread through the halls at school, and for once I was placed in a program that was meant for me.” 

That place was the Academy for Success, a program developed by Dos Pueblos High School Math Teacher Kelly Choi. When some of her students weren’t showing up to class, Choi took the time to ask why. Some were hungry, while many others, like Mollo, had turbulent home lives. 

The program identifies struggling students in the 9th grade. Instead of taking courses from different teachers year to year, students stay with the same cohort of students and a team of teachers to take the classes they need to  graduate.  And the group “becomes a family,” says Margie Yahyavi, executive director of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation. With additional mental health services and counseling, the students flourish: there is a 95% reduction in disciplinary action; 98% of Academy students graduate high school; and 92% enroll in some type of post-secondary education.

(Photo by Benjamin B. Morris ©2016)

But this is only one of many programs that Yahyavi and the Education Foundation’s generous donors support. The nonprofit raises private funds to assist students in three ways: funding programs like Academy for Success developed within Santa Barbara Unified schools by faculty or administration; supporting outside programs that want to work within the schools; and finally by sustaining programs that the Education Foundation developed themselves. 

Yahyavi is particularly proud of the work the Foundation is doing to ensure that vulnerable students stay on track through long summer months. “We are tackling summer learning loss with our robust summer programs,” she says.  

With nearly 60 percent of southern Santa Barbara County’s students enrolled in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, giving to the Education Foundation is one of the most clear-cut ways to lift up educational outcomes for the community as a whole.