In order to have a truly equitable post-coronavirus recovery, one key factor cannot be overlooked: academic systems serving young people can no longer work independently of one another. 

“The pandemic clearly showed us that as a city, we are extremely dependent on one another. Education systems, including schools and wrap-around student services, do not work independently, rather interdependently,” said Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Executive Director of UP Partnership, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure youngsters have access to the tools they need to become healthy, resilient, engaged members of our community.

“Without access to essentials like food, transportation, job security and physical and mental health services, young people cannot succeed,” Lugalia-Hollon noted.

The San Antonio Area Foundation is proud to support UP Partnership (formerly the P16 Plus Council of Bexar County), most recently granting it a COVID-19 Response Fund award.

Housed at the partnership, Excel Beyond the Bell is a collaborative working to promote access to structured and engaging youth development programs in what’s commonly known as out-of-school-time programming.

The program was actually started at the Area Foundation before UP Partnership took it over, maintaining the Foundation as the lead anchor partner on the project. It’s a deep and long-range investment going above and beyond traditional grantmaking. In fact, the Area Foundation’s investment since starting the program in 2012 has helped more than 75,000 youngsters in our region.

Youth development professionals have been invaluable as they continue to provide services during the pandemic – both physical and social-emotional – to those who need them the most. 

Before the pandemic, Excel Beyond the Bell’s research showed that only 21 percent of young people in Bexar County had access to quality, structured youth development programs. This gap has grown in 2020.

As schools reopen this fall, Excel Academy – also funded through the Area Foundation’s annual investement – has relaunched its work to empower those serving young people outside of the traditional school day. 

Excel Academy is a 10-month professional development program for leaders in 15 youth development agencies and programs across San Antonio, such as Good Samaritan, Family Service, Girls Inc., YMCA and Martinez Street Women’s Center.

A major step towards ensuring youth success is equipping these professionals with supportive and empowering relationships with young people experiencing the pandemic. 

“Having places where youth are so heavily integrated but with an absence of youth voice is so counterproductive,” said Bella Garcia, a student at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy and member of Our Tomorrow, the youth voice group at UP Partnership. “You want to hear from the people who are investing in space and youth are investing their time into their schools, into their communities.”

The two tracks in Excel Academy, Getting Relationships Right and Adaptive Leadership, support Excel’s core strategy of giving agencies and staff tools and resources needed to integrate these practices.

The academy provides agencies that typically have varying goals, resources, and standards the same tools to create successful programs within their established organizational structures.

The Adaptive Leadership theory suggests that there are two types of problems: technical and adaptive. Those with skills to solve adaptive problems require a combination of emotional intelligence, character and a willingness to learn and change culture when needed. 

Getting Relationships Right is a workshop developed by Search Institute specifically for leaders who want to develop relationships with young people that include five essential elements: providing support, challenging growth, expressing care, expanding possibilities and sharing power.

“We talk a lot about where our time and energy goes and what partnerships we focus on and Excel Beyond the Bell is where I put my time and energy because that’s where the difference is made,” said Kaci Boylan, Program Director at Project Transformation, a nonprofit that offers after school and summer day camp programming for children and youth from low-income neighborhoods. 

She credits Excel Beyond the Bell for helping her nonprofit build capacity, leadership development and provide data that guides their efforts. 

Additionally, UP Partnership launched its Equitable Recovery Pledge to challenge local leaders to keep social justice at the center of their decision-making, create space to hear from students and families, educate others about the discriminatory effects of COVID-19 and share resources, ideas and insights with other community leaders and organizations working towards an equitable recovery.

More than 100 community leaders – including Mayor Ron Nirenberg and San Antonio Area Foundation CEO Marjie French – have signed the pledge.  

In addition to Excel Beyond the Bell, UP Partnership is home to:

  • Diplomás, a network of education, business and nonprofit professionals working together to improve outcomes for Latinx young people.
  • My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio, a network of education, policy, workforce and nonprofit professionals working together to increase college attainment for boys and young men of color.
  • Our Tomorrow, a network of young people and adults working together to create policy affecting young people. 

“The road ahead will require sustained, focused efforts from all of us – community members, faculty, staff and institutions – to make sure our most vulnerable students and families have access to the resources they need to recover and thrive,” Lugalia-Hollon said.

UP Partnership will be among other Area Foundation nonprofit grantees taking part in a discussion on youth success during a segment of the Texas Public Radio live talk show “The Source” at noon this Thursday, Sept. 17 (89.1 FM on the dial). The following day, the conversation will continue through a live webinar at 2 p.m. on the TPR Facebook page and at featuring Patricia Mejia, our Vice President of Community Engagement and Impact.