Santa Ynez Valley LoyalTeach has localized the national conversation about increasing high school graduation rates and taken it a step further to address equal education opportunity for students throughout Santa Barbara County.

Beyond providing one-on-one tutoring, guidance, and college counseling for students of all income levels, Ian Cummings, founding director of LoyalTeach, has announced the roll out of as-needed, no application deadline Educational Justice Grants that further enable students to reach their higher education goals.

Cummings said the grants are available to LoyalTeach students who are unable to pay the cost of an essential educational opportunity, such as a necessary college campus visit, or unexpected one-time costs for educational commitments they have already made.

"I've already used funds to help clients out, but I didn't have a formal process for doing that, so I needed to create one and make all my clients aware that these grants are available," he explained, adding that he has set aside just a small piece — $4,000 so far — of the organization's operating budget for the grants.

Because they have yet to begin separate fundraising efforts, the grants will be given based on availability of funds, and determined by the selection committee. Cummings says the total grants are not to exceed $4,000 in the 2019-20 year and are meant to supplement LoyalTeach's primary services provided to their clients. 

"This week, for instance, LoyalTeach paid for a student to take an unexpected trip to the University California Riverside (UCR) to take a math placement exam so that he can have a chance to start his freshman year in college calculus rather than precalculus," Cummings said. "We also helped him arrange housing in Riverside for the night before the exam."

The total cost was less than $100, he said, but the travel arrangements were complicated, requiring several transfers, and finding housing required research and outreach to a student organization at UCR.

"Without that help, the student simply wouldn't have been able to get to the campus and have the opportunity to ensure appropriate placement in math," he said.

Cummings reported at the end of 2018 that his three year-old organization had exceeded 20 students and added their first two Santa Ynez Valley-based clients.

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Over the last nine months, that number doubled.

"I have extended services to some students in South County, and a contract with People's Self-Help Housing has me taking on a bunch of new students in Santa Maria," Cummings said. "I've also picked up a number of students in Los Alamos, so I'm getting a bit closer to home. All told, we're now serving 40 low-income students throughout the county."

The purpose of LoyalTeach is to bridge the socioeconomic gap for lower and middle-income families who might otherwise lack access to private educational services like tutoring and college counseling that can make a critical difference to students’ chances of achieving their academic potential.

According to Cummings, the grants are only available to LoyalTeach clients, and given when necessary to supplement the services they are already providing to their students.

"I've found that our students sometimes face expenses that threaten to prevent them from getting the opportunities we've helped open up for them," he said. "... An inconvenience to others can be an insoluble problem to our students, whose parents often can't help them. And since we're in the educational justice business, we do what we can to reduce those insoluble problems to inconveniences for our students, too."

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Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News.