Part 2: College Track and SVUDL Head Coach Kwodwo Moore
By Amy McElroy
College Track, located in East Palo Alto, is more than just another after-school program for underserved students. This comprehensive college prep and support system has helped 95 percent of its high school seniors gain admission to four-year colleges, and more than doubling the national average of college graduation rates for first generation and low-income students. This year, SVUDL and Head Coach Kwodo Moore have teamed up to bring debate to this ambitious organization.
Moore himself shows what the urban debate program can do, having joined the Bay Area Urban Debate League (BAUDL) team as a high school junior and thrived as a public speaker during its Leading With Debate Fellowship. As a freshman at CSU East Bay, Kwodwo volunteered to coach his high school team to save it from vanishing after losing its coach. Coach Moore led the team to great success.
During his Sophomore year at CSU East Bay, he became one of the very first SVUDL volunteers, helping recruit students, running workshops and judging tournaments in East Palo Alto. He taught the next two summers for SVUDL’s Summer Institute. After graduating with a B.A. in Philosophy and receiving the Bassen Award for Philosophy for the second year in a row, Moore was hired as a Head Coach at SVUDL in the fall of 2017.
Like SVUDL, Moore believes College Track strives to provide students strong intellectual and political engagement with the world. As a concrete way to achieve this, College Track sees its role as helping students succeed in college and go on to successful careers. Part of College Track’s mission states: “Creating a pipeline of college graduates from underserved communities is critical to closing the opportunity gap in this country and unlocking the full potential of our nation’s next generation.” Similarly, an article featured in Inside Counsel, “How Leading Companies Are Prioritizing Diversity Early in the Pipeline,” makes the case for debate programs like SVUDL as successful career pipelines.
One unique aspect of College Track is that all students are already invested in their own professional futures—thanks to the support of College Track. Co-founders Laurene Powell Jobs and Carlos Watson were working as advisors in East Palo schools when they discovered students who aspired to become first generation college students didn’t have the guidance, personal attention, and the classes they needed to gain acceptance to California State universities.
As a result, the co-founders created College Track: “a comprehensive after-school program that focuses on academics, student life, leadership, and getting into college, and works with students beginning as high school freshman and continuing through their college careers and beyond.” SVUDL mirrors this long-term commitment, which is based on the idea that underserved students are often financially and emotionally unprepared for college. That’s why College Track provides academic, financial, and social and emotional support and advice from senior year to beyond college graduation. Its representatives visit students on their college campuses and provide alumni networking to guide them through the best decisions possible for their futures careers. Since the East Palo Alto campus opened in in 1997, several other College Track locations have spread throughout the country to serve thousands of students and college graduates.
College Track’s success stems, in part, from a comprehensive academic model including tutoring, workshops and seminars, one-to-one case management, significant ACT prep, study groups supported by expert tutors, and specialized Study Squads for struggling students. There’s an expectation to maintain a 3.0 G.P.A. and sufficient ACT scores for college entrance. This is supplemented by community service and extracurricular activity in what’s called “Student Life.” And this is where SVUDL’s debate program fits in.
Moore said the students’ commitment to the debate program makes working with students at College Track particularly rewarding. First, he says, “Students have proactively sought and chose to be a part of debate. Then, the organization is suggesting to them to debate. And because the students are already committed to going to college, there’s a level of buy-in that already exists.”
In addition, the structure of the organization is set up with a great deal of accountability and incentives for students, such as scholarships based on participation in community service hours, extracurricular activities, and attendance at certain meetings. As a result, it’s much easier to get support and encouragement from both parents and other students. “I don’t have to chase parents down for permission slips,” Moore said, and it’s easier for students to find rides to tournaments. College Track allows SVUDL to be an integral part of their program “without over-leveraging ourselves” Moore said.
There’s also a broader sense in which College Track allows SVUDL to reach its goals more efficiently, according to Moore. At other schools, only a certain percentage of the participants would land in the target demographic—even in a school with a high percentage of underserved students. However, at College Track “100 of students of the program are in target demographic” Moore explained, “even if we only teach a small number of students.”
But Moore expects even those numbers to change for the better. ”What I see happening is a developing culture of students in debate, teaching them to do really well, and motivating other students to join.” Gradually, he believes SVUDL will “reach a greater number of students in a meaningful way.”