Last month, the SF Examiner reported that 90% of the Mission High students who applied to the University of California for the 2021-22 school year were accepted — higher than any other school in SFUSD, including Lowell High School. This milestone was years in the making, and is likely traced back to the passion and commitment of Judy Grossman, Ed Fund Leadership Council member, who founded Mission High’s Athletic Scholars Advancement Program (ASAP) in 2004. We had the pleasure of speaking with Judy to learn more about what led her to found this program, her vision for Mission High, what she’s learned along the way, and more.
SF Ed Fund (SFEF): How long have you been involved with the Ed Fund?
Judy Grossman (JG): It’s been about nine or 10 years. I was on the board for six years and I’ve been honored to be on the Ed Fund’s Leadership Council for a few years.
SFEF: What originally inspired you to get involved with the Ed Fund?
JG: A couple friends asked me about getting involved with the Ed Fund because they knew what I had done at Mission High. They invited me to a luncheon and presentation, and at the time, the Ed Fund was hoping to make an entrance into the college awareness arena. They asked me if I would come on the board and help bring tutors and mentors into public schools.
SFEF: You mentioned what you had done at Mission High school. Can you expand on that and tell us more about Mission High’s Athletic Scholars Advancement Program (ASAP) and what motivated you to found this program?
JG: In June 2004, I distinctly remember reading an article in the Chronicle about the Mission High soccer team, and the coach was trying to raise money to send the team to a soccer camp at UC Berkeley to get the kids out of the city for a few days. The article talked about how there had been a murder at the school of a star student. I read this article and started crying, because I thought about my own son. He was older, but he went on family vacations, sports camps, sleepaway camps… And here are these kids who are trying to get out of the city for four days, and I thought maybe I could help. I called the athletic director and talked to him. He said he received a lot of phone calls, so I said you must’ve gotten a lot of money. He said they didn’t receive any donations.
I have no idea what prompted me to do this. In retrospect, my son said it’s because I wanted more children. And he’s right, of course… I ended up having hundreds and hundreds. The long story short of it was I just sent out an email to 25 or 30 of my friends whose children have the same gift of good fortune to have very enriching summers and I asked them for donations to Mission High, sending along a copy of the article.
Within a few days, I had raised about $15,000, which far exceeded what was needed to send the kids to camp. I called the athletic director and told him I raised the money, and I ended up helping to drive the kids to camp. My husband and I went over to be with them during the week, watching them scrimmage and when they played in the evening.
We started hearing their stories because they’d see us there night after night. After the camp was over, we took them to lunch and back to Mission High School. These young men told us, It’s the first time I slept without hearing gunfire. It’s the first time I’ve had my own bed. It’s the first time I could have all I wanted to eat. It was certainly awakening. They were on a college campus, but some of them had never been across the Bay Bridge and they lived in the Mission District.
A tipping point for me was when one young man said to me, “Am I ever going to see you again?” I just looked at him and said, “Of course you are.” And then I thought to myself, well now of course you have to, but I had no plan. You can’t say something and not follow it up with an action. So I came home and I thought about it. And the next week I volunteered to drive the Mission High girls soccer team to camp, but they didn’t sleep over. I drove them every morning to Berkeley, gave them breakfast, and every morning we looked at a different part of the campus. One of my childhood friend’s daughters was a superstar of the Cal soccer team at the time and was also the head coach of the UC girls’ soccer camp. I explained to her who the girls were and she took them under her wing and gave them really special treatment.
And then I started thinking, all the kids participating in athletics should go to camp. I realized it’s not about sports; it’s about a strong peer group. High school students want peer groups, and an alternative to a bad peer group – notably, gangs – is to be involved in athletics. You didn’t have to be an athlete. You just had to be a part of a team.
SFEF: How did the program start to evolve?
JG: I talked to the principal at the time, Kevin Truitt, and told him we need to follow this up with more than just sending kids to camp; we needed to provide them with college counseling and give these students a support system that gets them through the process of applying and going to college. He gave me an office in Mission High, and I was working all the time – not quite 24/7 but probably 16/7 – trying to share with people what we were doing and to raise money. The students wrote thank you notes to all the people that donated money, and that brought us even more money. The next summer we sent 86 kids to camps, mostly sports-based. And after that we sent 135, but we branched out to academic programs and also supported students with college applications.
SFEF: Can you tell us about any students who left a big impression on you, or who especially benefitted from the program?
JG: They all have stories. I mean, the stories just go on and on and on. One of the first young men that I met at soccer camp at Berkeley was really hesitant to even stay in school, but he was a fabulous soccer player. His name was Raul and he was about to be 19 and phase out of being able to attend public school. He would have been there for five years. He had been an active gang member and had something like 15 D’s and F’ to make up. We had to petition for him to stay in high school, and I believed he could do it. He did it in a year; he went to day school and night school. He got a college scholarship to Fresno Pacific and he was the star of their soccer team. He graduated and he is now working in gang prevention in the Mission District.
He wasn’t stupid. None of these kids are; that’s not the issue with any of them. It’s their environment, their motivation, who’s guiding and encouraging them… or who is not encouraging them. So many of the kids have these stories of overcoming things, which, in most people’s minds, are inexplicable obstacles that you can’t even imagine. They experienced living in a car, being homeless for six or seven years, or child protective services taking them away from their parents because they weren’t going to school. They have excelled and succeeded because people believed in them.
SFEF: The SF Examiner recently published an article about how 90% of Mission High seniors who applied to UC schools were accepted, higher than any other school in SFUSD, which may be attributed to incredible programs like ASAP. What can be learned from looking at Mission High as a model for the city? What do schools need in order to achieve what Mission High is accomplishing?
JG: You have to put somebody at a school who is passionate about what they’re doing. I certainly wasn’t passionate about Mission High at the time. But once you get inside any public school, I think you find out how wonderful the students and faculty can be. It’s important to have a caring adult – a teacher or volunteer – who shows that they care about a student and they don’t walk away. However, the process is a commitment; you have to have people who want to put the hours in and make a commitment to the students.
To qualify for the ASAP program, part of the criteria was you had for 2.5 minimum GPA because it took a 2.0 minimum to participate in sports. We wanted the kids to raise the bar. It’s amazing when you raise the bar a little bit, they raise the bar on themselves a lot. They get a lot of positive reinforcement.
SFEF: How have you partnered with other community partners to support with this program, and what have you learned about partnerships?
The key is to pick complementary, not competing, organizations to partner with. We partnered with Seven Tepees, First Graduates, Summer Search, Mission Graduates, and Posse, just to name a few. At the time they didn’t offer the type of program we were offering. We also partnered with scholarships, including Maisin* and Achievers. Anytime that we heard of a special need for somebody we tried for find an organization that would help. We stayed in the loop with like-minded organizations so everyone knew what each other was doing, even with the scholarships.
SFEF: What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned from these students?
JG: It’s really quite a blessing to be part of this and I feel really lucky. The kids changed me more than I changed them. When I first started [the ASAP program], I made an appointment with a student to talk about college. She didn’t come, and I was upset. I thought, you know, I came in this day just for her and she’s not showing up. Later I found out her brother been shot. Fortunately, I never said a word to her. I thought, you know what? It’s not about me. You have to meet [students] where they are.
It’s 100% for the kids. The need for youth to have someone they can count on is paramount. You can’t pop in one day and be gone the next. Kids need a consistent person that cares about them; you need to build that trust and follow up with what you’re saying. If they don’t show up, there’s probably a reason they’re not there. You have to get over your preconceived notions about something and be open to there’s a whole new set of circumstances. You can’t jump and put your thoughts and feelings over theirs.
A lot of people don’t recognize how fortunate they are, and this situation really opened my eyes. I did not know a lot of young people firsthand who have had the tragedies that they have. It just humbles you. If you see other people fulfill their dreams and you had any little part of that along the way, that’s a reward in itself.
Before ASAP, 22% of the Mission High students qualified to go to a four-year college. And I think right now it’s 89% of the kids qualify to go to a four-year college. Maybe I helped build the fire under these students, but they struck the match. It’s just remarkable. I am so proud of the students and what they’ve done and the administration for just turning it all around.
SFEF: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Judy! Is there anything you want to add about your work with the Ed Fund and what inspires you to stay so involved with the students and families we serve?
I’ve always believed that no one person can do everything, but together there’s nothing you can’t do. The Ed Fund creates strong alliances, and I’m such a believer in these alliances because no one organization can do it all; we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We want to make it the best wheel it can be. Also, with the Ed Fund’s volunteer program, the idea is [to recruit] and keep volunteers who are passionate about what they do. So many volunteers for the Ed Fund have found their passion, and have realized the difference they can make in people’s lives. That’s an inspiration to me.
The [Ed Fund’s] board is amazing; I love that it’s a working board. That added to my work with the Ed Fund; it’s a board that gets involved and cares, and one which carries out the CEO’s work. The board doesn’t just give money away; they train people to be effective partners to public schools and meaningful additions to the classrooms.
I believe the Ed Fund makes a difference in San Francisco’s public schools. We put caring adults in the classrooms with young children; we have people do the hands-on work. Everyone involved in the San Francisco Education Fund has a passion to help kids in public schools, and is consistently reevaluating the programming to fit the needs of our kids.
* The Maisin Scholar Award, a program of the San Francisco Education Fund, helps students overcome the financial obstacles that stand in between them and their pursuit of higher education. Each year the Maisin Scholarship provides 75 high school seniors with as much as $3,000 annually for up to four years so that they can achieve their dreams.
The Ed Fund recognizes and congratulates the 2022 Mission High graduates who are now in the newest cohort of Maisin Scholars: Andrea Lopez, Eugene Campini, Jaden Melton Dreher, Joshua Flores, Maximiliano Herrera, Melissa Morales Mureuta, Myracle Culclager, Nikko Robinson, Te’Mon Howard and William King. Learn more about the Maisin Scholar Award here.