A Difficult Path to Higher Education for Promising Youth in West Modesto

A Difficult Path to Higher Education for Promising Youth in West Modesto


Southwest Modesto, the area and neighborhood around Mark Twain Junior High School, has the highest crime rate in Modesto according to local law enforcement analytics. It is also an area high in poverty with the annual median income at $26,000 with nearly 100% of students in the area eligible for free- or reduced price lunches. The average total days missed due to out-of-school suspensions in this school is almost 4 times higher in comparison to the district average according to "Miseducation" by ProPublica. This school also is in the top 10% for having the most inexperienced teachers according to ProPublica. School violence, vandalism, and low academic achievement are often-cited problems in area schools by both teachers and students. Given this environment, it is difficult for many youth to envision a life beyond their local neighborhood and school that involves higher education.

Team Information
Legacy Alliance Outreach/MJC After-School Project
Team Facebook Link

About the Problem

Problem Category


Problem Context

Given the environment that many youth are exposed to in their neighborhood and schools, there are very few people who can act as a reference point for a path to higher education. According to Mike Baldwin, founder of the Legacy Alliance Outreach after-school program, given the options presented, youth develop an appetite for bad behavior, gangs, and drugs. This is further exemplified in levels of educational attainment and median income earnings in the county as compared to that of the state. According to for Stanislaus County, 75% of residents have only a high school diploma or less with some of the lowest levels of educational attainment being in south and west Modesto with students of color and foster youth being negatively and disproportionately impacted. Only 25% of the county’s residents attain a higher education degree in comparison to 40% getting a BA or higher in the state. This lack of educational attainment in the county directly translates into lower income earnings and fewer resources available to the community as a whole. There is a need to replace that appetite for criminal activity and fill the void of a clear path out of this lifestyle with a supportive community, activities that expose youth to a new vision for the future, information and resources, and a mindset change. There is currently a void in the services that are provided for minoritized youth who speak a different language in terms of culture and lifestyle, and local institutions of higher education do not speak their language or understand their culture. Youth need credible messengers with lived experiences who can empathize with youth and their struggles to be the chaperones and guides to a college campus where they can see others like them who have made it and engage in stimulating, experiential, and relational activities that provide a new vision. Currently, institutions of higher education do not reach these youth early enough. A number of schools in the area do not have access to dual enrollment according to Pro Publica’s “Miseducation.” In addition, higher education institutions do not establish space in these places, so youth do not see higher education institutions as familiar or accessible. The local community college and university often wait too long to do outreach in these communities and instead wait for youth to come to them to instill thoughts/vision of the promise of education to lift youth out of poverty and provide a detour to the path to prison. It is not only the youth that need this connection to the college, but the college also needs this connection to the community it is said to serve. Institutions of higher education need to find a way to connect with promising youth early and in a way that is experiential, relational, and shepherded by others they trust with lived experiences similar to that of the youth. Higher education needs to feel accessible and familiar so that youth can come to see it as being a viable alternative to the other options they see around them. In accomplishing this, the entire community benefits through greater educational attainment and income earnings that will bring more resources to the community and further break the school-to-prison pipeline.

How did you identify this problem?

Mike Baldwin, the founder of Legacy Alliance Outreach, arrived in Modesto in 2018 after spending twenty-six years in prison. Given his lived experiences, his passion was to prevent other youth from experiencing the same hardships and path he went down. Upon arrival in Modesto, he began speaking with local organizations and at events. He spoke to schools about his experiences growing up in inner-city Chicago, experiencing a wide variety of adverse childhood events. After hearing his story, school administrators and teachers began to invite Mike into local schools to talk to youth and attempt to mediate issues between students, staff, and faculty. At the end of Spring 2022, he was asked to spend a month on the campus of Mark Twain Junior High School to mentor youth who were deemed to be "the worst of the worst," the ones most likely on the path to prison. As Mike and his staff began to spend time with the youth, relationships and a community began to form, and once the school year ended, the Legacy Alliance Outreach non-profit staff did not want the students' experiences of education, mentoring, and community building to end, so the fledgling non-profit, with no funding, launched an intensive summer program for the same youth and opened the opportunity up to other youth in the community to join. During the summer of 2022, youth met from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day to participate in a wide variety of activities, workshops, and community events. The community youth program grew to serve over fifty youth each day and culminated in a three-day outdoor mountain retreat. The youth program has continued with the start of a new school year but is now an afterschool program with youth spending time with LAO staff from 3:30-6:30 each day getting tutoring, learning to regulate emotions, and participating in community service. Ruth Luman, English Language faculty at Modesto Junior College, met a number of the youth while serving as a board member for the non-profit. She was also able to meet one of their student staff, D'Angelo Sanchez, who is also a student at the college. Through these threads of connection, both a problem and an opportunity was discovered. The LAO youths' eagerness, curiosity, and desire to envision life beyond middle school and high school began to outline and demonstrate the gap there was between promising youth and higher education in the area. The realization of how the college could fill a void when it came to connecting with youth in the community became clearer. There is a need to create a consistent program in which youth can come to the college campus and begin to experience higher education in a way that is relational, fun, and accessible. While the college currently has dual enrollment on high school campuses, many promising youth in difficult environments do not have these classes available to them, and many times if they are available, youth do not envision them as being accessible for them. They also do not tend to see mirrors of themselves accessing such programs. Furthermore, dual enrollment involves an element of risk for young people unused to college courses. If they fail, they may jeopardize their GPA and future opportunities. If there is an opportunity to experience college in a low-stakes way and be shepherded onto the college campus by those who understand them best, youth will feel that they belong and that higher education is for them. Just as much as the youth need a connection to the college, the college needs this accessible connection to them that it is not currently making through other programs.

Problem Details

Who are those affected by this problem?

The youth affected by the school to prison pipeline and low educational attainment are youth in the southwest Modesto area. Most of the youth in the LAO after-school program are between the ages of 8-18, a number of whom are also currently in the foster system. Some case examples of youth affected by the current environment are below: 'A', a middle-school youth, was called the "shots caller" at Mark Twain Junior High by faculty and staff. He was the most feared student at the school. After LAO staff spent a great deal of time relating and getting to know 'A,' they realized he had experienced trauma and began to address that trauma. 'A' is now not only going to school consistently, but getting 'A's and 'B's. 'N' suffered from a great deal of violence in the home so much so that she ran away and went missing for several days. The LAO female staff counseled 'N' intensively to help her find coping strategies to deal with the trauma. LAO staff also worked with 'N's mother to reduce the trauma in the home and provide employment so that she could leave domestic violence. 'N' is now getting 'A's and 'B's in high school. When other girls at her school recently wanted to fight her, she reached out to program staff. Because of the LAO after-school program and its activities she practices emotion regulation and mindfulness. She recently signed up to become a junior explorer with the Modesto Police Department and wants to envision a future in law enforcement. 'V' is an eight-year-old who attends the after-school program every day. He currently lives with a foster family. He was removed from his mother's house after her boyfriend attempted to make 'V' look more like the Joker by carving lines into his face. 'V' attends the after-school program and says that the other kids there make him feel like he is part of a family. “M” is a young woman who has witnessed a sibling killed in a shooting and was herself shot in her own neighborhood. She has physically witnessed a great deal of violent trauma in her personal life, yet she aspires to go to college and pursue a health profession. She needs and wants those shepherds into higher education. These are just a few case examples of many affected by their neighborhood environment yet aspire to something different. Youth in the LAO after-school program are not the only ones impacted by problems of neighborhood violence, low educational attainment averages in their environment, and higher-than-average poverty levels. The entire community of Modesto and the greater Stanislaus County region are impacted by the lower-educational attainment of youth through lower median income in the community. By not reaching out more directly to youth in the community, Modesto Junior College also suffers through lower rates of enrollment.

How often does this problem occur?

Due to a history and system of redlining, the southwest area of Modesto has suffered from a ghettoization of poverty, lower-educational attainment, and crime that has existed for decades. It is a neighborhood that is often heavily over-policed and under-resourced. According to Mike Baldwin and Alex Bequette, LAO staff, there is a criminal culture that is accepted in West Modesto. It is accepted by many in the city as being normal and not challenged. Those who could challenge the status quo do not because policing and enforcement is believed to be the answer. The community is habituated into seeing this neighborhood as being lost, hopeless, and those residing in it often feel the same. It is a chronic problem that has been experienced for decades. One city councilperson once commented that nothing has changed in Modesto; that West Modesto has been "left to rot."

How long has the problem been going on?

If one were to look at the history of neighborhood expansion and development in Modesto, one would be able to see that the marginalization of neighborhoods in the city and the minoritization of communities of color extends all the way back to the early 1930s and the Great Depression and migration of impoverished groups to the area. This marginalization, minoritization, and historical racism has in part led to the higher poverty and crime rates and the subsequent lower educational attainment in this area. One city councilperson once commented that nothing has changed in Modesto; that West Modesto has been "left to rot."

Is the problem disrupting the community? How?

With approximately 22,700 annual student referrals to police and 9,500 student arrests, with 11,000 incarcerated youth, California, as a whole, stands to be one of the largest school-to-prison pipelines in the nation. The problem of youth not seeing other alternatives to an environment of violence in their neighborhoods and schools is a problem that disrupts the community in long-term ways through lower educational and employment attainment and increases in crime making Stanislaus County and Modesto in particular, one of the top five least educated areas in the nation, according Forbes Magazine.

Is the issue perceived as a problem by the community at large?

Yes, it is a problem widely recognized by educators in the community, researchers, statisticians, community leaders, and law enforcement.

Is the problem limited to certain geographic areas?

The problem of low-educational attainment and youth growing up in neighborhoods considered high risk for violent crime is a problem throughout Modesto, but the issue is particularly acute in West Modesto. The problem of higher education not reaching youth early enough is a problem that impacts high crime and high poverty areas disproportionately.

Who are the Stakeholders, those wanting this problem to be fixed?

Stakeholders include anyone who interfaces with youth in this area. These stakeholders include school staff and faculty, those who live in the West Modesto area, and community members at large. Other stakeholders include law enforcement. In addition, the community college also needs to see itself as a stakeholder. These are promising youth who should be future college students, but the college is not currently reaching them. Most of all, the youth are the stakeholders. They most want a new vision for their own future.

Addressing the Problem

Are you aware of any solutions, approaches, or efforts to tackle this problem?

After-school programs are a common response to disaffected youth living in more crime-prone areas. Oftentimes, however, there is a gap in services provided and services needed. According to LAO staff, millions of dollars are poured into Modesto youth programs with a one-size-fits-all approach, and sometimes programs are prescriptive to a small population with not enough staff needed to spend the intensive mentoring time with youth. In addition, few staff with relevant lived experiences serve in these programs. Each young individual needs a customized approach. The lived experiences of LAO after-school program staff bring with them a great deal of empathy for those struggling with violence, trauma, drugs, and abuse. According to Mike Baldwin, those who have lived experiences and have healed from these experiences are the ones to best lead others out of their trauma and problems and help build that bridge to higher education. Many after-school programs also do not intentionally build a direct bridge between youth and higher education. There are often missed opportunities by both after-school programs and institutions of higher education to regularly bring youth onto a college campus for the purpose of discovering programs, disciplines, and building relationships with faculty and staff.

What are the obstacles you are aware of to address the problem?

There are a number of obstacles to connecting traumatized youth to higher education. There is often the ivory tower culture and perception of the college that separates it from the community. Colleges often do not have or build a consistent and regular interaction with youth from the community to break down the fear that youth often have of a college campus. Because of this lack of regular and consistent connection to minoritized youth, the college grows more and more distant in its ability to relate, change, or grow to meet the needs of this potential student demographic. This cultural disconnect further deepens the divide and expands the gaps between higher education and the youth that need this connection the most. What is needed is a mechanism by which this regular, consistent connection is maintained, but that requires a great deal of time, effort, and dedication of already thinly-spread staff and faculty. There is also often a lack of resources and personnel to coordinate, organize, implement, and maintain programs that can provide the kinds of activities that will help youth envision a future in higher education. Community programs also often lack the resources to transport, feed, and chaperone youth to a campus and build that “boots on the ground” bravery and confidence that many need to eventually make the transition to higher education.

What are the success criteria that could be defined to address this problem?

Measuring and defining success as a result of an intervention or solution could include the following outcomes or measures: - decreased truancy in school by youth in program - increase in school attendance and higher grades - decrease in behavioral incidents and suspensions at school - increased interest in higher education through use of pre- and post-surveys of youth opinions and perceptions - increase in relational interactions between youth and college faculty and staff - increased visits and familiarity with the college, resources, and programs - increased familiarity of college staff and faculty with youth and their culture - increased college events and outreach in the neighborhood in which the youth reside

Solution Overview

Solution Title

Legacy Alliance Outreach and College After-School Connection

Solution Summary

Legacy After-School Program works with youth to help improve educational outcomes and behavior at school through exposure to positive role models, educational opportunities, and healthy options for their future. The program includes meals and snacks, group discussions, gang prevention and life-skills workshops, outdoor activities, and excursions to local events and attractions. Youth are also involved in neighborhood improvement projects and volunteer opportunities. Program staff are from similar communities with lived experience to ensure mentoring with genuine empathy. The college has a role to play in the community through partnering with organizations like LAO and together interrupting the current school-to-prison pipeline for its most at-promise youth and providing them with a new vision for their future. The college has an opportunity to support a fledgling non-profit in its work by providing free activities to youth in the Legacy After-School Program once a week with the goals of: - connecting with and welcoming community youth to the college and introducing them to higher education - building youth confidence by exposing them to a college campus and making higher education feel more accessible - personally connecting future scholars with faculty, staff, and current students through relational experiences - introducing youth to educational pathways, resources, and programs -providing at-promise youth with a vision for the future - developing creativity, stimulating curiosity, and igniting passion for learning through experiential activities at the college with caring professionals Once a week on Wednesday afternoons from 2:30-6:30 p.m., LAO after-school program youth come to the college campus for experiential activities created and led by MJC faculty, staff, and students (see more ideas for inspiration on the following page). The suggested schedule would be as follows: 2:30-2:50 p.m.: Arrival, Welcome, Overview of Afternoon Activities, and Meet Activities Facilitators Divide into Two Groups (approx. 20 scholars each) Go to Session 1 Activities. 2:50-4:15 p.m.: Session 1 Activities with College Volunteers Includes Break and Snacks (provided through MJC funding) with Youth 4:15-5:40 p.m. Transition to Session 2 Activities and Switch Groups Session 2 Activities Transition to On-Campus Dinner Provided by LAO 5:40-6:30 p.m. Dinner with Future College Students and Transition to Transportation Home Provided by LAO Each school, club on campus, student services department can be as creative as it wants in its offering of activities, possibly extending themed opportunities over weeks. Some ideas are below to get ideas flowing: Example Ideas for Activities: Themed Afternoons of Science Wonder - everything from looking through a telescope to looking under a microscope Crazy chemistry with the the chemistry club A visit to the Planetarium. Fun dissections in the biology lab A visit to the Great Valley Museum Learning about careers and majors in STEM Creating in the new Makerspace Themed Afternoons of Language Arts Spoken word poetry workshop and follow-up youth poetry slam Creative non-fiction workshop with follow-up storytelling event Comic arts creation with follow-up exhibition Careers, majors, and programs in language arts Themed Afternoons of Art Basic guidelines for taking fabulous photos in the photography lab with follow-up exhibition event Hands on work with ceramics Drawing and/or painting for relaxation Dancing in the dance studio An afternoon theater performance Guitars not Guns

Solution Details

Are there any similar initiatives solving the same problem your team is trying to address and how is your solution different from what already exists?

MJC Community Education is currently working with Modesto City Schools to build more of a district-wide after-school program at which after-school activities take place on K-12 school campuses. What is different about this solution is that the youth are able to come onto the college campus and participate directly with college staff and faculty in an environment that is peer-pressure neutral for the youth while exposing the youth to higher education programs and to the physical campus. This regular weekly placement of an after-school program at the college can help reduce the physical fear factor of a college campus and foster personal relationships with those in specific career and discipline interest areas. Dual-enrollment is also a common solution used to help transition high school youth to higher education while still in high school. Dual enrollment college courses are often taught on high school campuses to help youth begin earning college credits. However, many minoritized youth are not encouraged into these courses, and they are also a high-stakes introduction to the college given that youth are taking transcripted courses that, if not completed successfully, could permanently impact their GPAs, ability to get financial aid, and their own sense of self-efficacy. The LAO/MJC after-school program solution gives all students, regardless of their current aptitude for college coursework, a low-stakes way of getting future scholars boots-on-the-ground experience in an actual higher education setting without the risk.

Who will benefit from your solution?

This is a win-win solution in which the youth of the program benefit from the exposure to higher education and experiential learning activities. Legacy Alliance Outreach benefits from cost-effective access to educational activities, and the college benefits by building early relationships with future scholars creating a stronger connection between higher education and the community it needs to serve. The family of the youth participating will also benefit. The youth will become the reference point for the rest of the family with regard to a path to higher education. In the same way, the college benefits from this program because the college will be challenged to learn the language of these young people and with this culture and thereby increase access to higher education. The college will learn the language of the youth of this culture and area.

How far along are you with your solution (Idea, Vision, Implementation Plan, Etc.)

We are now in the initial implementation phase. We have written a prospectus for the solution, created an online form by which faculty, staff, and programs can begin signing up to coordinate activities, and we have begun soliciting participation from various college schools and programs to offer activities beginning in Spring 2023. We are also in the process of bringing on student ambassadors for the program, finishing an MOU, and completing paperwork to ensure risk is mitigated and liability covered.

What steps or process do you think is required to develop or implement your solution? (optional)

We will continue to solicit for participation and coordination of activities at the college to ensure that each Wednesday during the spring semester is completely filled. The launch date of this project is set for January 25th, 2023 with several weeks already calendared with activities. MOUs between organizations have been created and are being processed. Background checks and fingerprinting of student workers for clearance to work with children are in process of being completed and leadership meetings are ongoing with regard to this project.

What would you like this solution to look like in 12 months. (optional)

Hopefully, more support, excitement, and engagement in this initiative will grow over the next year at the college to provide more programs, activities, and experiences for this after-school group. Already there has been a great deal of interest and eagerness by faculty and student services to plan activities that will engage youth and foster relationships. The goal would be to continue the program connection with the youth indefinitely while possibly expanding the reach to youth to four-year-university experiences as well. The solution could potentially act as a model or prototype for other such relationships and agreements between the college and other after-school youth programs in the city to reduce the fear factor of college and encourage youth to consider higher education a realistic possibility. In addition, there is also potential for this model to spread to other California community colleges, for example, Sacramento, where LAO is opening other after-school programs and violence intervention support networks.

What type of resources would you need to meet your goal? (optional)

To meet this goal of regular connection between the college and the Legacy Alliance Outreach after-school program, reliable transportation is essential. To that end, transportation resources in the form of gas, a reliable vehicle, and staff to drive youth to and from activities will be needed. Other staffing resources will also be needed in the form of community college student youth ambassadors to assist in meeting youth at activities, working with them and assisting MJC afternoon coordinators, eating dinner with the youth, and assisting them to transportation home. While the youth are at MJC, it would be most optimal and convenient to be able to provide snacks and dinner for the youth to receive dinner before returning home. Snacks would be a necessity given that the time between eating lunch at their schools and returning home would be too long not to go without some sort of nutrition. In addition, nutritional snacks will also facilitate attention and focus in the afternoon during activities. Some food served before going home will allow for more informal time to be spent with faculty and staff before returning home, and for many youth, this may be their only opportunity to have nutrition before going to bed at night. Materials and supplies for activities may also be needed on occasion to support a program like this in which instructors, for example, complete art projects and maker-space creations, do science experiments, or create their own graphic novels, or theater productions. The possibilities for creativity are endless but may be confined by funding available.

Would you be interested in getting support from mentors(optional)

Yes. We want to have a growth-mindset about how to create better connections and meaningful experiences for community youth at the college.

Other Solution Comments / Notes

Please see more information here about the proposed program: