San Jose mayor expands summer learning program for under served youth

San Jose, Calif. (KGO) -- With the end of the school year just weeks away in San Jose, hundreds of students will now have a safe and supportive place this summer to spend their afternoons.

"The great challenge of our generation is the growing divide in our valley," said Mayor Sam Liccardo on Friday morning after announcing the expansion of SJ Learns, a city initiative to provide free summer school programming in some of the San Jose's most vulnerable neighborhoods.

More than 400 TK to third-grade students from four elementary schools will take part in the program. Nearly half of them are English-language learners. The majority of the participants are minorities. City officials expect to serve more than 3,400 students by 2021.

"Between the end of one school grade and the beginning of the next, they can lose as much as five or six months of learning in just those three months, not being in an educational environment," said city librarian Jill Bourne.

The summer program is made possible by a $300,000 donation from Alaska Airlines. Since 2018, the airline has contributed more than $1 million in grants and flights to various organizations across the Bay Area.

"We're trying to close that achievement gap so that families with a lot, versus families without a lot, can be even, and we want to make sure that's where San Jose is," said Alaska Airlines Bay Area vice president Annabel Chang.

The program has seen positive results across the board since it began nearly four years ago.

"Who knows who would be taking care of them? Who knows if they'd have any food to eat?" said Juan Cruz, Franklin-McKinley School District superintendent. "I think that's one of the meaningful impacts that go beyond the academic."

The city hopes to expand the program to 26 schools across eight school districts in the San Jose metropolitan region within the next two years.

"We know that if a child is not reading at grade level by third grade, they're four times more likely to be dropping out of high school and that's not tolerable for us," said Liccardo.

Check out more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area.
Copyright © 2019 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.