An Evaluation Study of Ravenswood Youth Transitioning to and Through High School

Dr. Avani Patel

Executive Summary

To provide some background, I worked for many years in Northern California in the K-8 district of Ravenswood, a district that serves families from the small city of East Palo Alto and the Belle Haven community of Menlo Park. These families are mostly impoverished and predominantly Latino/a , Black, and Pacific Islander. When Ravenswood youth reach high school age, they are enrolled in high schools in the surrounding affluent communities of the Silicon Valley. Students from Ravenswood are enrolled in Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) schools, unless they choose and are accepted into charter and private schools. Graduation rates of Ravenswood students are quite low at only 47% graduating from a traditional comprehensive high school in SUHSD, whereas at least 92% of students from some other feeder districts graduate or earn a diploma or certificate from one of the comprehensive high schools in Sequoia Union.

This dissertation, entitled An Evaluation Study of Ravenswood’s Youth Transitioning To and Through High School, is uniquely positioned as a dissertation in practice. The first evidence of this orientation is that the document has been written as three distinct papers targeted at specific audiences within the two districts of Ravenswood and Sequoia Union.

The three papers are integrated and address the overarching research question of how to improve high school transition and persistence of students from Ravenswood. Yet unlike a traditional dissertation, it is designed, researched, and written to optimize the direct and immediate impact on patterns of inequity affecting Ravenswood youth. Therefore, the papers are addressed first and foremost to the school board, superintendents, principals, and teachers within the districts.

This dissertation study is part of a larger effort that I have been engaged in to provide better transitional support for rising freshman and support for their persistence to graduation. The dissertation work began with my action research and advocacy that has made an impact on the school assignment of Ravenswood youth as they transition out of their home community to the SUHSD schools.

Specifically, the revised map was introduced at the January 2014 school board meeting, and was recently approved. The new map will allow all East Palo Alto students to attend the high school closest to their community. This change also allows all East Palo Alto youth to attend the same high school, instead of the outdated, detrimental policy that placed students across three high schools. Finally, the dissertation looks at how Ravenswood youth are experiencing high school in Sequoia Union to provide evidence for their resilience, and to identify support systems that are working, and those that are still needed.

Paper one begins with a professional memoir of my work in the district from teacher to administrator. It shifts to document analysis to provide a history of the 1986 implementation of the high school boundary map that has scattered the youth of East Palo Alto across three different high schools -- the furthest taking students well over an hour in commute time. Findings demonstrate how I transformed from a Teach for America novice to an insider in the community, and reveal the political and social implications of the 1986 boundary map on the youth of East Palo Alto. The primary audience for this paper includes the principals and teaching staff from both districts. I hope to be involved in the development and delivery of shared professional development sessions for faculty from Ravenswood and Menlo-Atherton High School. Menlo-Atherton is the high school in the district newly targeted to accept all Ravenswood youth.

Paper two is based on focus groups with Ravenswood youth and addresses the challenges and successes they have faced attending high school outside their community. Findings revealed three major themes. The first was that the transition to high school was a major jolt for the students and many suffered low GPAs and insufficient units towards graduation after only their first semester. The second theme was that relationships with teachers, administrators, and peers matter a great deal, and these needs are often unmet. The third theme was that students need better-organized systems of support that are visible, consistent, and effectively bridge home and school. The audience for this second paper includes the superintendents of the two districts and high-level administrative staff.

Paper three is based on the findings of the first two papers and provides recommendations for an articulated K-12 vision between the Sequoia Union and Ravenswood school districts. The paper made seven recommendations beginning by outlining reasons to support the key policy decision to change the boundary map. It then provides details on six programmatic and practice-based recommendations for implementing teacher and staff collaboration between the districts, and for broadening and deepening student services.

The purpose of the entire dissertation is to provide context to insiders and outsiders on the history of the Ravenswood community and district, give students a platform to share their voices and be heard, and call out certain key players to help drive needed change to support the children of the community better. With relatively new leadership in both districts, strong principals and staff, hard-working community service providers, and committed funders, we ought to truly hear the students and act in a bold, courageous way to put their needs ahead of ours. 

References available here