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Camino Scholars program at People's Self-Help Housing sites helps kids succeed at school 

The Camino Scholars program, quite literally, meets kids where they're at.

People's Self-Help Housing (PSHH), the biggest affordable housing organization on the Central Coast, offers a variety of free, site-based services to its residents. One of those services is Camino Scholars, an after-school education program.

click to enlarge EASY ACCESS The Camino Scholars program makes homework help accessible with program sites located on People’s Self-Help Housing properties across the Central Coast. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PEOPLE’S SELF HELP HOUSING
  • Photo Courtesy Of People’s Self Help Housing
  • EASY ACCESS The Camino Scholars program makes homework help accessible with program sites located on People’s Self-Help Housing properties across the Central Coast.

"We have 11 learning centers throughout the Central Coast, all the way from Carpinteria to Paso Robles," PSHH Director of Education Joanna Dominguez said. "We offer after-school programming and then we also offer college readiness programming for our students once they get into high school."

These programs can look like tutoring, group-based homework help, and other educational support to boost students' school success.

When the pandemic hit last year, Dominguez said the demand for the Camino Scholars program shot up.

"We were getting referrals left and right," she said. "So just during that first month, we increased our enrollment by 100 students."

PSHH recently released end-of-year data that shows vast improvements over the past school year, even with kids learning mostly at a distance.

According to the data, at the start of last school year, only 35 percent of students enrolled in the program were reading at grade level, with 32 percent being two or more grade levels behind. At the end of the year, 61 percent of students were reading at grade level or higher, and just 13 percent still needed greater assistance.

Dominguez said the program uses a web-based math and literacy platform called iReady to assess its students.

"Why we utilize that platform is because it's very predictive of their school success," she said. "It's totally in line with the SBAC [Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium] testing that the school districts use. We're able to see where our students will progress academically with the school district. ... Even during COVID times, we kept working with them for the whole entire time."

And while at school, students typically get a new teacher every year, the Camino Scholar program has kids working with the same instructors as they get older.

"The reason why we were able to fill that gap [during the pandemic] is because we have such a strong relationship established with our parents and our students," Dominguez said. "They're coming to us year after year after year, and it's the same teachers in the after-school programs on-site. ... Normally they just walk over from their apartment to our classroom right in the middle of the [housing] complex."

Amid the pandemic, of course, things looked a little different: Camino Scholars went virtual during the lockdown. But as things open up, the program is now back in person.

Dominguez added that while PSHH residents get priority in the program, other kids can join, too, if there's additional space.

"We do very frequently enroll additional students in the community," she said. "A lot of times that looks like other family members of our students who are enrolled with us. Other times it's the local school that's in our area, they'll refer students that don't live on-site, because they know of us through other students that they have that do live on-site."

The service is completely free to anyone who enrolls. Right now, Camino Scholars has about 350 students enrolled, and the program typically serves 600 students over the course of a school year.

"As a result of the pandemic we've actually expanded our partnerships," Dominguez said. "For example, Templeton Unified [School District] is the first to ask us to open up a Camino Scholars program on campus. So last semester, we did the first ever Camino Scholars program on campus at Templeton Middle School, and this upcoming school year we're planning to open up an additional two sites at Templeton Elementary School and Vineyard Elementary School."

To find out more about Camino Scholars, visit pshhc.org/education.

Fast fact

• The Central Coast Coalition of Chambers released business community survey results that show an increase in optimism in the local economy. "The most recent survey ran from June 21 to July 7, opening nearly one week after the state's Beyond the Blueprint recovery plan went into effect on June 15," according to the San Luis Obispo Chamber. The results show that 45 percent of respondents were "optimistic about the future and think the economy will rebound within two to three months. This is a stark contrast when compared to general sentiment from May 2020 with only 17 percent of respondents feeling optimistic." Jim Dantona, chair of the Central Coast Coalition of Chambers, said in a statement that the coalition "will continue to advocate for business-friendly policies that will aid in their recovery." Δ

Staff Writer Malea Martin wrote this week's Strokes. Send business and nonprofit tips to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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