Back the basics for Mission District kids

Published in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 28th, 2014.

by Melissa Daar Carvajal

As I drive by the Google buses every day on my way to drop off my kids at Fairmount Elementary, I am reminded of my work as the community relations manager for Bigstep.comin the late '90s. Those times, when an explosion of new tech companies and their employees brought change to the Mission District, are very reminiscent of now.

One day, while working at my Ergo standing desk, I heard a commotion and saw my fellow Mission activists "occupying" our office on Mission and 22nd streets. (If you're ever on that corner, check out the paint in Mexican colors thrown on the building in protest from back then.)

Community activist Renee Saucedo and I smiled hello,  Eric Quezada community organizer  looked quizzically at me - and there I was - community relations manager for a bunch of do-gooder dot-commers who wanted to help. But my Mission compadres wanted more than Bigstep was offering.

I was trying to work out a deal for office space and a grant for the Mission activists - but they didn't go for it. It simply was not enough to cover the community's substantial losses.

And the Bigsteppers efforts to build a child care center and teach computer skills to the Latina businesswomen who were running the center were good - but didn't accomplish any big changes in the Mission.

Now we are back there again - I've leaned toward the pragmatic side of social change. That's why today I seek the tech companies' "venture investment" for our public school students in San Francisco. It's doable because it's so hyper-local - and it will make an immediate difference for the Mission District kids.

You'd be surprised at some of the easy-to-fill needs we have to struggle to raise funds for - regular stuff that any good education requires: library books, librarians, computers, arts and music programs, exercise and professional education for our teachers. No matter what theory you have about education, there's no controversy over giving kids this kind of well-rounded education. It's pretty much the ABCs of schooling and develops the social and emotional skills linked with academic success.

Consider also that these kids are the future employees for Bay Area businesses. Diversity of ideas and people is widely touted as a dynamic fuel for innovation and growth. Manuel Pastor, an economist and immigration expert, writes about California's new energy - and its huge growth potential, spearheaded by the rising generation of Dream-ers and immigrant kids. These are the kids in our schools.

I know that education poses complex challenges, but investing only in big reform doesn't bring about the kind of immediate and fruitful change we can accomplish right now in our public school system.

We have an opportunity here to show in the Mission that the tech industry is ready to step up and make serious investment in our kids. Let's do this! We can show the state and country what we can do in our own hometown.

Melissa Daar Carvajal is the PTA president at Fairmount Elementary School in San Francisco.