Youth UpRising: Changing a Community, One Young Person at a Time

July 17, 2014

YU LogoIn the Castlemont neighborhood of East Oakland, one in four people live in poverty. The teenage pregnancy rate is three times the Alameda County average. Homicide is the leading cause of death for residents aged 14-24. These are grim statistics, but there is hope for neighborhood change.

A local Castlemont nonprofit, Youth UpRising, is set on revitalizing the neighborhood by investing in its young people. At the Youth UpRising center, youth make music, receive academic tutoring, develop GED completion plans, gain job experience, and have access to a health clinic. They receive services taken for granted in more affluent neighborhoods but highly valued in communities of poverty like Castlemont. In just nine years of operation, Youth UpRising has served more than ten thousand young people.

14_06_10_NSVF-Youth-Uprising-1Olis Simmons, Youth UpRising President and CEO, is unwavering in her commitment to increase the educational and professional opportunities for students in the Castlemont neighborhood. With declining enrollment and historically low graduation rates, Simmons believes that the existing public schools in the Castlemont area do not put students on track for college and career readiness.

This summer, Simmons and her team submitted proposals for two charter schools: Castlemont Community Primary Academy and Castlemont Junior Academy. With support from NewSchools’ Oakland Fund, Youth UpRising plans to open the pair of schools in the 2015-2016 school year, beginning with a transitional kindergarten, kindergarten, and sixth grade. The schools will add a grade level each year, until they cover transitional kindergarten through eighth grade.

14_06_10_NSVF-Youth-Uprising-3Lisa Haynes, a former principal, leads the application effort. She developed a school model for the applications built on best practices from high-performing schools in low-income neighborhoods, including Common Core alignment and blended learning. Haynes remembers the moment she decided to work at Youth UpRising. She saw a student who dropped out of her school working at a Youth UpRising event, wearing a suit and charming guests. At her school, he fell through the cracks; at Youth UpRising, he found the support he needed. Now, Haynes and Youth UpRising are developing high-achieving community schools to support all students.

NewSchools is proud to partner with Youth UpRising to bring education entrepreneurship to the Castlemont neighborhood. “A good charter school has the power to transform a community,” says Gloria Lee, President and COO of NewSchools. “Based on the expertise of the schools’ leadership and the educational philosophy they’ve proposed, Castlemont Community Transformation School has the potential to be a game-changer for East Oakland.”