Fall is in full swing, and for students everywhere, that means one thing: Back-to-School. While those three words might make some nervous, our Gene Academy students and their employee-mentors are excited about another year of collaborative learning and fun.
Gene Academy is an educational partnership with the South San Francisco Unified School District (SSFUSD) to help local students get excited about school. The program started in 2008 with 25 students and 40 employee volunteers. Since then, employees have spent more than 14,000 hours volunteering with their students, who come to our campus every week for one-on-one mentoring. The program gains popularity year over year with 2014-2015 as our biggest yet; our 340 mentors will support over 2,000 students. Ragnar von Schiber, Senior Manager, Employee Giving & Volunteering, had this to say about the programs popularity:
"While our employees enthusiastically help out with reading, writing, science and math, what they're really doing is inspiring these students. Our Gene Academy volunteers are imparting a love of learning and encouraging their students to think positively about their futures."
That passion for learning is palpable during every Gene Academy session. Eyes widen as fractions are demystified, high-fives resound as spelling lists are mastered, and there’s even some laughter as mentors relate their own stories about school. In addition to schoolwork, half of the sessions at Gene Academy are dedicated to hands-on science projects with kits provided by Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT). Partnering with an educational nonprofit like RAFT was a natural choice. Their science kits range from how to build a telescope to the ever popular “Egg Drop” exercise where students explore how to prevent a dropped egg from cracking through a combination of creative thinking, teamwork, and an understanding of certain scientific principles.
Gene Academy is about more than passion. It’s also about being a committed partner for good in our community. South San Francisco schools face a dizzying array of challenges everyday, all while receiving less funding than neighboring districts in San Mateo County. Colleen Wilson, Principal Manager of Corporate and Employee Giving noted that. “Concentrating our efforts on one district is unique for a corporate program, and will increase our opportunity to have a major, long-term impact in our own backyard.”
The teachers from participating schools are thrilled at the results they’re seeing in the classroom. Many have remarked that both attendance and test scores are on the rise among their Gene Academy students. Leslee Cottrell, a teacher at Martin Elementary had this to say about our volunteers. “By supporting the students in their growth as thinkers and learners, they’re providing our students with a passion for their own futures. They can see themselves as professionals with college degrees, successful lives, and careers.”
Recently, our commitment to education has been recognized in our community. The San Francisco Business Times awarded us a “Beyond the Check Community Impact Award,” and the San Mateo County School Boards Association honored us with a Kent Award. We’re proud of these accolades, not as a sign that we’ve achieved our goals, but that we’re on the right track. We want to keep talking to educators in South San Francisco about the ways we can be of service and expand our offerings to match the needs of our community. Together, we can help raise the standards of education to make sure today’s students are ready for the challenges of tomorrow.