Think Together Honors City of Moreno Valley and Moreno Valley Unified School District with Champion of Change Award at Annual Raise A Hand Event
Think Together partners with the City of Moreno Valley and Moreno Valley Unified School District to provide afterschool and expanded learning programs to nearly 6,000 students annually.
Think Together, California’s largest nonprofit provider of afterschool, expanded learning, and school improvement programs, is proud to announce it has named the City of Moreno Valley and Moreno Valley Unified School District as this year’s Champion of Change award recipients at its annual Raise A Hand fundraiser event held on Thursday, April 21.
This year’s event returned as a live broadcast with more than 300 guests attending watch parties in Orange County, the Inland Empire, Coachella Valley, and the Bay Area and raised over $500,000 to date for K-12 expanded learning and afterschool programs that enrich the school day and bring equitable education opportunities to students throughout the state.
“Think Together is so impressed with the leadership and collaboration the City of Moreno Valley and Moreno Valley Unified foster to serve students in their community,” said Think Together Founder and CEO Randy Barth. “When new investment opportunities or program innovations become available, they’re the first to lead the way, trailblazing new programs that support student learning and inspiring others to do the same.”
When schools rolled out distance-learning to keep communities safe during the COVID pandemic, Think Together worked with the City of Moreno Valley and the Moreno Valley Unified School District to offer virtual expanded learning programs to students so they could stay connected with peers and program leaders in an educational environment.
As schools began to welcome students back on campus last year, the City and the District were among the first to partner with Think Together to augment their existing After School Education and Safety (ASES) and 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants with newly available Expanded Learning Opportunities Program (ELO-P) funds to offer expanded learning programs to more students and during non-instructional days, like summer and spring break.
“When we began our work together more than ten years ago, I knew as an educator this partnership had real potential to make a difference in the lives of students,” said Dr. Yxstian Gutierrez, Mayor of Moreno Valley. “There’s no greater investment than the one you can make in the future of our students, and this one has been no exception. It is an invaluable asset for our community.”
Since partnering with the City of Moreno Valley and the Moreno Valley Unified School District, Think Together has served an estimated 50,000 students with afterschool and expanded learning programs. In 2022 alone, programs reached an estimated 6,000 students and have evolved to serve youth and their families with academic enrichment, physical activity, and social-emotional learning, helping to provide a safe place for kids during typical working hours for caregivers.
Think Together was founded in 1997 as a single afterschool center in Costa Mesa and has since grown to serve nearly 200,000 students annually with direct-to-student and professional development programs throughout the state.
“We’re honored to be recognized alongside the City of Moreno Valley for the work we’re doing to help students outside of the school day,” said Moreno Valley Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Martinrex Kedziora. “These programs make a real difference in the lives of students and their families, and this recognition validates the work we’re proud to do every day as educators.”
Think Together also awarded its Faces of the Future Scholarship Award to three outstanding students who were enrolled in Think Together’s program. Recipients received a $2,000 scholarship and a laptop to start their college career.
A replay of Think Together’s Raise A Hand virtual broadcast can be viewed on YouTube. Sponsored by the Worah Family Foundation, the event brought together passionate individuals and corporations throughout California to celebrate 25 years of impacting students through afterschool and expanded learning.
Beacon Economics Sets the Record Straight on the UCR Business Center Controversy
Beacon Economics Sets the Record Straight on the UCR Business Center Controversy
By Ken Alan, Forensic Business Journalist
A series of articles reported by the Los Angeles Times in February and April stated some University of California faculty members were “Raising the alarm about a research center affiliated with UC Riverside that they say uses corporate funding for reports ‘attacking proposals to improve the lives of working Californians.’”
The articles cite an “Open letter to the UC Regents seeking investigation of UC Riverside — Beacon Economics relationship,” signed by 56 faculty members at UC Riverside, Berkeley and Davis, along with 44 graduate students. Most signatories appear to be humanities studies faculty with credentials in media studies, music, history and political science. The Times failed to question why faculty with more relevant credentials in business, economics and research appear to have only three signatures.
The story states the letter to UC Regents was circulated by UCR Professor of Media & Cultural Studies Dylan Rodriguez, whose biography can be found here: profiles.ucr.edu/app/home/profile/dylanr.
No questions were raised about how the signatures were gathered at three participating schools and why closer Southern California campuses, such as UCLA or UC Irvine, weren’t included.
None of the articles explain why this petition was sent directly to UC Regents without first going through proper channels at UCR. “If there was some true complaint about the quality of our research, there is a system within UC Riverside to deal with that,” said Dr. Christopher Thornberg, principal at Beacon Economics. “There is an administrative office that handles complaints. And if they really thought that our research was substandard, they could and should have gone through that particular office. They didn’t. They went on this petition campaign. Most of the conversation is about how our answers are morally incorrect. And that’s a really slippery slope.”
The letter to UC Regents and ensuing negative press resulted in the UCR School of Business and Beacon Economics severing their partnership after seven years. “Obviously, the relationship between UC Riverside and Beacon was mutually beneficial. The school got a lot out of it,” said Thornberg. “UC Riverside is a fantastic institution. It is a reflection of what UC was built to be. Technically speaking, the center belongs to the school. It would be hard for me to see them continuing it. One of the biggest problems with these kind of centers is you have to have a motivated leader.”
Most of the controversy seems to stem from an August 2022 Beacon-UCR Research Report entitled “How Increases in Worker Compensation Could Affect Limited-Service Restaurant Prices.” In their letter to UCR Regents, the petitioners stated, “Beacon asserts that legislation allowing fast-food workers a say in setting their pay would mean fast-food price hikes of up to 20 percent or more. Fast-food companies are spending tens of millions of dollars to promote the findings of this report — which they funded. They are trying to convince voters that empowering fast-food workers — most of them women and most of them Latino, Black, or Asian — means a 20 percent ‘food tax.’”
“I’ve always been comfortable working with both sides as long as they’re comfortable with the fact that I’m going to give them the best answer I can on the basis of theory and data, not on the basis of some opinion of what’s morally correct,” said Thornberg. “For a very long time, we have dodged the culture wars. Not this time.”
The report clearly discloses that “This research was supported by the International Franchise Association.” Beacon Economics has prepared studies for both corporations and unions in the past. “We’re never going to sell answers. We’re never going to cozy up to one side or the other. Anybody who engages us in a contract will have to accept the results we come up with. It’s as simple as that. That is a rule we have gone by. I’ve had the opportunity of working, yes, with unions and with business organizations, with chambers and the United Way.”
Most of the conclusions presented in the report can be deduced by common sense, such as this summary statement: “If worker wages in the limited-service restaurant industry are raised, there is little doubt that workers who keep their jobs will be better off. But the change is not costless. Any increase in worker compensation will bring about an increase in prices for consumers, which could hurt lower income households who are already struggling with current inflation in food prices. It will also cause the industry to shrink, with fewer establishments and jobs.”
The report goes on to conclude, “Compensation increases in the 20% to 60% range will cause prices … to increase between 7% and 22%.” The petitioners argue other studies show “about a half percentage point menu price increase for every 10 percent rise in the minimum wage.” Whatever the real number, minimum wage hikes usually mean higher menu prices and fewer employee hours, according to Harri, a workplace management software company that works with more than 4,000 restaurants. Anyone who has visited a big box department store or fast food restaurant recently knows that self-serve kiosks are already displacing human workers to reduce labor costs.
“This entire episode truly saddens us. In a university environment, academic freedom and debate should be a cherished and protected norm, as should well-conducted empirical research, even if the conclusions of that research conflict with certain ideologies,” wrote Thornberg in an email to clients and business associates. “The ending of this partnership and the excellent work CEFD has done over the past decade for the community is not a win for the University, Beacon Economics or the Inland Empire region as a whole.”
The LA Times story also failed to fact check the letter’s claim that “Thornberg’s name doesn’t appear in school faculty or other directories.” Christopher Thornberg’s listing can be readily found in the UCR Profiles directory under “Affiliate – Research Associate” at profiles.ucr.edu/app/home/search;name=thornberg;org=;title=;phone=;affiliation=Affiliate
“When [UCR] first invited me to do the center, they asked me to come on campus and be a full-time faculty member and run the center. I was what they call an ‘unpaid faculty member.’ So I was basically nominated and approved by the business school to get a faculty position as an adjunct professor. But I wasn’t paid,” said Thornberg.
Beacon Economics will continue to operate in the Inland Empire without the affiliation of UC Riverside. “We’ll probably look for another partner at some point,” said Thornberg. “I’ve got nothing but support from our clients. All of our work that was being run through the university has been converted over to Beacon work. The only thing that’s really changing in terms of our efforts in the Inland Empire is the logo on the top of the page.”
Dr. Christopher Thornberg will be presenting on May 19th for the San Bernardino Council of Governments in Lake Arrowhead.
Inland Empire Education and Workforce Summit Connects the Dots Between the Classroom and Careers
The Inland Empire Connection: Merging Academic Paths and Career Journeys
Exclusive Report by Ken Alan, IEBJ freelance writer
A generation ago, parents and school counselors tended to defer talking to students about going to college until the last two years of high school. Today, kindergartners are likely to see their classroom dressed up with college pendants and banners that proclaim “we will go to college.” The line that once separated the classroom from careers has faded as schools now actively seek mentorships, internships and apprenticeships for their students and high schoolers are getting a head-start on earning college credits through concurrent enrollment at a junior college. These were just a few of the insights that highlighted the Third Annual Inland Empire Education and Workforce Summit in Riverside.
“Connecting business with education,” was the overarching goal of sponsoring the summit, said Cathy Paredes, Senior Vice President, Inland Empire Marketing Executive for Bank of America, which employs about 2,000 in the region. Since 2018, the company has sponsored a student leaders program, offering paid internships and work experience for various non-profits. About 100 applications were received last year for four internship opportunities. Next year’s program will start accepting applications in October. (More information can be found at bit.ly/3LtRN5p).
While promoting a college education remains their main focus, schools are adapting to the new reality of some students opting for careers that don’t require a degree. Riverside high schools offer 58 career pathways, referred to as CTE (Career Technical Education), where about 85% lead to immediate employment in good-paying jobs, according to Dr. Edward Gomez, Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, County Office of Education. CTE careers include graphic design, residential and commercial construction, financial services, medical assisting, pharmacy clerk, culinary management, cyber security, welding, emergency medical technician and many more. (Download the entire catalog at bit.ly/3JKZa7e).
Students choosing to enroll in college declined from a peak of 70 percent in 2016 to 63 percent by 2020. A study produced by the Hechinger Report attributed the trend to a dip in the population of college-age students, growing skepticism about the value of a college degree, and the cost of higher education now exceeding what many families can afford to pay. Meanwhile, traditionally low-wage fields have been offering starting pay well above the minimum wage.
“We need to focus on more than just college,” said former State Senator Connie Leyva in her keynote address. “There are lots of jobs that pay good wages that don’t need a college degree.” Leyva served on California’s Senate Education Committee for 8 years, 4 of those as chair. Last October she took the helm of San Bernardino public broadcasting stations KVCR TV and KVCR FM.
During the press briefing that preceded the summit, Leyva outlined several initiatives to produce original educational programming: “KVCR is working with the (San Bernardino) County schools on a program called ‘Learn with Me.’ It will be 36 episodes. We write it, we direct it, we produce it, so it’s a very big endeavor. What’s unique about it is the fist portion is in English and the second portion is in Spanish.” The program will debut in June. KVCR also offers student internships in broadcast administration, production and fundraising.
Limited school counseling resources was cited as a key reason the discussion of career and college used to be deferred until late in high school. Now, schools have partnered with non-profits like Think Together, which offer after school programs, tutoring — and counseling.
“Schools have their hands full. So, we’re kind of ‘middleware’ that sits between the school and the workplace,” said Randy Barth, CEO.
Diego Martinez, now a mechanical engineering student at Mt. San Jacinto College, participated in Think Together program while attending West Valley High School in Hemet. “I joined the Vex Robotics group in my freshman year in high school. We designed and programmed robots that would complete certain tasks to complete with other Think Together sites in our region. Throughout my journey with Think Together there’s been a lot of interaction with the staff … I was able to get letters of recommendations for scholarships … Think Together has really supported me, all the way through high school and now in community college. I definitely wouldn’t be as far along as I am today without them,” he said. Martinez hopes to complete a bachelor’s degree at one of the University of California campuses.
Think Together also offers instruction in essential soft skills like public speaking, resume workshops and interview techniques.
“In the Inland Empire we have more apprentices per capita in our region than the rest of the State. We have more IT and cybersecurity apprentices than the Silicon Valley,” said Charles Henkels, Executive Director of Launch Apprenticeship Network. “It is an important economic development tool for our Inland Empire business community. It’s an earn-and-learn model, so it’s a win-win for both the student and employer.”
“If a student doesn’t have a plan to go college then we want to connect them to the industries that are hiring,” said Ted Alejandre, County Superintendent at San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools. “The carpenter’s (union) has an apprenticeship program where, at age 17-1/2, students can start off at $19/hour but then move very quickly to $25/hour.”
“The pandemic really stifled opportunities for internships and jobs, so we really want to encourage businesses to go out of their way to give our young people these opportunities,” said Dr. Angelo Farooq, Chair at California Workplace Development Board.
“Today’s summit is really more than just discussing the challenges facing our workforce. It’s about exploring innovative and effective strategies to build stronger, more inclusive and more prosperous communities in the Inland Empire and beyond,” said Riverside City Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson who secured $4.4 million in Youth Jobs Corps funding last year. The program, called “CaliforniansForAll,” offers employment for youth ages 16-30 to develop career pathways and interest towards a career in public service in the key areas of education, climate, and food insecurity. The City places Fellows in part-time positions for up to two years in municipal departments such as Parks, Recreation, and Community Services, Public Works Street Trees Division, The Office of Homeless Solutions, and the Fire Department Office of Emergency Services.
The summit was hosted by the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce together with partner Think Together and sponsor Bank of America.
Think Together’s Hernan Sanchez Named Among 2022 Next Generation of Afterschool Leaders by National Afterschool Association
Awardees were recognized during the NAA22 Convention in Las Vegas, March 20-23, 2022.
Think Together, California’s leading nonprofit provider of afterschool, expanded learning and school improvement programs, is proud to announce the National AfterSchool Association (NAA), has named Think Together Family and Community Engagement Coordinator Hernan Sanchez as one of the National Afterschool Association’s (NAA) 2022 Next Generation of Afterschool Leaders. Hernan was recognized and celebrated alongside 19 other NextGen Leaders during the NAA22 convention in Las Vegas, March 20-23.
Hernan Sanchez joined Think Together in January 2021, quickly gaining recognition among his peers before celebrating his one-year anniversary with the organization. In his role he helps connect families and communities to resources that help support their children in school, such as library memberships, program enrollment, financial literacy and more. Hernan earned accolades from leadership throughout the industry for his ability to connect with others on a personal level, despite the unprecedented challenges educators and afterschool professionals have faced during the pandemic.
“When you think of the next generation of afterschool leaders, you think of someone who not only looks at the impact on kids and their community, but also sees that expanded learning is a complete support system for our families,” said Think Together Executive General Manager Johanna Lizarraga. “This comes down to innovation and thinking outside the box. Hernan doesn’t see afterschool as just supporting the student. He sees it as fortifying their support system in and out of the classroom.”
The Family and Community Engagement Team at Think Together is a new department cultivated during the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic when Think Together saw that families needed additional support connecting to resources such as the internet, technology, school supplies, and meal services.
Their work has since evolved to give families the tools to support the student’s school day as well as pave a path to college and career readiness, assist with literacy and related educational development services. Think Together has a Family and Community Engagement Team coordinator supporting each of the organization’s nine regions.
“We are so proud of Hernan for his passion and commitment to Think Together’s mission,” said Founder and CEO of Think Together Randy Barth. “In his short time with the organization, he is making an impact that makes us excited to see what he will accomplish next with us.”
Think Together is thrilled to have Hernan join the ranks of previous honorees of the Next Generation of Afterschool Leaders. In 2021, Helen Welderufael, then regional operations analyst for Think Together’s San Bernardino Region, received the award and has since been assumed the role of talent acquisition operations manager. In 2018, Alberto Bajaras, then quality assurance coach for Think Together’s San Bernardino Region was awarded and has since climbed the ranks to Director of Program and Operations for the region. Stacy Galdamez, executive general manager for Think Together was named in 2017 and was also a quality assurance coach at the time of her recognition.
In selecting its 2022 Next Generation of Afterschool Leaders honorees, the National AfterSchool Association sought to highlight emerging young leaders under the age of 30 who are active in the broader afterschool community, demonstrate contributions that have started to influence beyond individual programs to entire organizations and communities, are actively engaged in efforts to elevate the afterschool field, have a proven passion for the development of themselves and others, and demonstrate persistence in their work to grow within their roles.
“This group of leaders represents the creativity, dedication, and commitment of the best of our next generation of the afterschool profession. We are honored to recognize them because we know the important role strong leadership plays in promoting positive outcomes for children and youth,” said Gina Warner, President and CEO, National AfterSchool Association.
An estimated 10.2 million young people participate in afterschool programs each year and the industry employs an estimated 850,000 professionals and leaders. The National AfterSchool Association is a professional membership association that fosters positive youth outcomes by supporting, developing, and advocating for afterschool professionals and leaders.
Honorees were profiled in the Spring 2022 issue of NAA’s AfterSchool Today magazine. A digital edition of the magazine may be viewed here.
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