CREDIT: Stephanie Pollick / Partnership for Children and Youth
A student at the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation Lion's Pride Afterschool Program during a science class.

Governor Newsom has set a bold vision for California, which includes alleviating child poverty, preventing homelessness and strengthening affordable housing. Taking on these issues may seem overwhelming, but there is good news: an existing model in our backyard can help make progress on all three of these challenges.

Jennifer Peck

It all started with a simple idea. We know that afterschool programs make a difference: kids have better school attendance, stronger social-emotional skills and graduate at higher rates. At the same time, kids who live in affordable or public housing developments are often the most vulnerable and fall through the cracks.

So, what would happen if we brought afterschool programs directly to housing developments where students live, rather than only offering them on school campuses?

What happens is programs like Lion’s Pride After School, which serves children at the Lion Creek Crossings housing development in Oakland’s Havenscourt neighborhood, near the Coliseum. In Havenscourt, health and safety are children’s biggest challenges — and Lion’s Pride is their safe haven.

Operated by the nonprofit East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, Lion’s Creek Crossings has 567 affordable one- to five-bedroom apartments for families and seniors. On site are a park and playgrounds, computer lab, employment and health resource center, early childhood programs and market with fresh produce.

Lion’s Pride began in 2010 as a partnership between East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation and neighborhood schools. Afterschool instructors are there five days a week during the school year and summer. They engage students in activities that keep them learning, teach healthy conflict resolution and build trust to help students cope with underlying barriers to academic success, like neighborhood violence, hunger or problems at home.

Lion’s Pride also launched a walking school bus, where staff walk children from two elementary schools home to their apartments at Lion Creek Crossings — a time when many students feel unsafe. And they can access students’ attendance data from Oakland Unified School District to support the district’s work to turn around chronic absenteeism.

The instructors take their roles seriously. “When a child isn’t doing well, I check in with how my teachers are currently supporting them,” says Michelle Sit, who manages Lion’s Pride. “We are responsible for intentionally providing an environment for youth to be successful. We tailor our methodology to support our youth, rather than always expecting youth to conform to our rules. This becomes even more important when youth have not been accustomed to structure or safety.”

While there is no single solution to the complex issues California faces, programs like Lion’s Pride could be instrumental to achieving the goals Governor Newsom laid out.

Education is the pathway out of poverty — ensuring students can fully participate in our economy as adults. Afterschool programs not only lead to academic success, but also allow parents to keep working by filling a crucial childcare need. This helps create more stability for families living in affordable housing, who lack the financial reserves to weather hardships like a job loss or unexpected illness. And the program is very accessible since it’s located where families live.

Lion’s Pride is just one successful example of combining education with housing. Housing providers, school districts and nonprofit organizations have set up afterschool programs in housing developments in cities like Sacramento, Irvine, Hayward, Stockton and Los Angeles — as well as seven other states. Many are part of a network called HousED, which assists agencies wishing to get started.

California’s policymakers, education leaders and housing providers can all play a role in bringing education directly to housing.

First, we must invest in afterschool and summer learning targeted to children in affordable and public housing developments. This includes increasing funding for California’s network of afterschool programs, known as the After School Education and Safety program. These programs serve hundreds of thousands of students, and one in four are at risk of closing due to inadequate funding.

Second, as new affordable and public housing developments are created across the state, there is an opportunity to weave afterschool and summer programs into their fabric from the beginning. This includes planning physical space for education programs and utilizing California’s tax credits for resident services, which is how many housing providers pay for educational programs. It also means expanding and deepening working relationships between school districts and local housing agencies.

Alleviating child poverty, preventing homelessness and strengthening affordable housing are ambitious goals for our state. Bringing education directly to housing is an important strategy for meeting those goals — and creating a better future for all of our kids.

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Jennifer Peck is the president and CEO of the Partnership for Children & Youth, which pioneered the HousED initiative in California.

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