Community Learning Model

By |2022-05-26T17:30:39-07:00May 26th, 2022|Categories: Community Impact|

Community Learning Model

Written by:Alexis Avina, EdD, MPH, Vice President of Community Impact

United Way of San Diego County is proud to share a comprehensive, community-driven approach, called the Community Learning Model, which aims to provide supportive extended learning opportunities to help local children thrive.

No matter our race, background, or ZIP code, we all want our children to learn in a safe environment that inspires imagination, cultivates curiosity and critical thinking, and ensures our children can pursue their academic potential. Regardless of the challenges that students face at home, we want their learning experience to be filled with opportunities to succeed. For the last several years, the impacts of the COVID-pandemic have been immense, and when it comes to our children, most significantly, the pandemic has contributed to something called unfinished learning, which has limited children’s ability to reach their highest potential. 

Since 2020, unfinished learning has contributed to the following issues:

  1. Disruptive educational school years
  2. Large disparities in educational experiences
  3. Decrease in student attendance (absenteeism and student drop out)
  4. Teacher shortages
  5. Mental health needs
  6. Burden on schools and teachers

Unfinished learning has led to students who are disengaged from school altogether and may have slipped backward, losing knowledge or skills they once had. While a majority of students simply learned less than they would have in a typical year. Students who move on to the next grade unprepared are missing key building blocks of knowledge that are necessary for success, while students who repeat a year are much less likely to complete high school and move on to college. It’s not just academic knowledge these students may miss out on. They are at risk of finishing school without the skills, behaviors, and mindsets to succeed in college or in the workforce. 

Because learning never occurs in isolation, local schools aren’t the only place to where students can turn for support. That’s where the Community Learning Model comes in. It focuses on what students really need to succeed. Examples include tutoring, additional literacy/numeracy skill building, socio-emotional learning, access to free books, Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) curriculum that is tailored to the unique interests of students, opportunities for scholarships, and internships and mentorships with local high growth careers. Basic needs for their families are also addressed, such as  free healthy meals, health care or mental health counseling, housing support, or other tailored services before, during, and after school.

The Community Learning Model identifies these needs by bringing together community-based resources, local public school districts, academics, health and social services, and youth and community development agencies. These services take place in numerous locations including school campuses, community based organizations, and virtually. 

These academic enrichment opportunities are held during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low performing schools.

The Community Learning Model aims to help students meet state and local standards in core academic subjects such as reading and math, offers students a comprehensive array of enrichment academic activities that complement their regular academic programs, and provides  support services to families of participating students.

Research shows that comprehensive out-of-school time that builds and expands on the regular academic school day yields positive outcomes including increased literacy, numeracy, socio-emotional abilities, self-confidence, and participation in the workforce.

Community Learning Model centers meet the unique needs of students by serving as safe and nurturing environments that facilitate strong connections between schools and extended learning, and help build strong community collaborations. 

The Community Learning Model aligns with the United Way of San Diego County’s north star, “EDICT 2030”, which aims to align partners and leverage resources. We know that the community is strengthened when we collaborate with partners to address inequities in our region and help underserved communities. In partnership with community-based organizations, schools, school districts, and government, the Community Learning Model is leveraging the use of data and our partners’ expertise to better understand the root causes of our region’s most pressing issues, put impactful solutions into action, and achieve shared goals. Community Learning, a collaborative, place-based approach, puts our community on the fast track to closing educational gaps and ending disparities across the San Diego region.

Mind the Gap

By |2022-02-23T15:30:26-08:00February 22nd, 2022|Categories: Community Impact|

Mind the Gap

Written by: Alicia Quinn Kitagawa, VP of New Business Development

Kids start out with big dreams for when they grow up. Reading is crucial for children to reach their goals of becoming future astronauts, veterinarians, doctors, firefighters, video game developers, and pilots. 

For many kids, those dreams slip away. Not just because they become more practical or “grow up”, but because of disparities in education and lack of family stability that hold them back. 

Access to books and not reading at grade level are big reasons why dreams slip away for children. We know that kids who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 45% of San Diego County’s third graders were not reading at grade level – and that was before school closures and virtual learning exacerbated inequitable access to high-quality learning opportunities.

The past two years have magnified the grave educational and economic disparities that exist, and widened the gap for those experiencing those disparities. During the throes of the pandemic, United Way of San Diego County (UWSD) released its strategic plan, “Mind the Gap: EDICT 2030”, dedicating the organization’s work to closing that gap and igniting the possibilities for our region’s future. 

UWSD knows that no one organization can do this work alone. United with community partners and donors, they are reimagining and rebuilding a community in which all San Diegans, especially those facing the widest gaps, have the opportunity to succeed and thrive.

This spring, UWSD is launching two initiatives for community members to join in addressing these inequities and finding solutions. 

Throughout the month of March, the organization is hosting a countywide book drive to celebrate Read Across America. With a goal of donating 1,000 books to local students, UWSD offers multiple ways to get involved. You can purchase a book online or in-store with one of our partners, Warwick’s in La Jolla and Libelula in Barrio Logan. You can also drop off a new book at UWSD’s offices in Kearny Mesa. Finally, you can make a financial contribution to support UWSD’s work in addressing inequities in our community and closing the gaps in education, literacy, and family stability. Visit to get involved!

In addition, UWSD, in partnership with the Council on Literacy, is thrilled to announce the launch of a brand-new podcast called The Gap Minders! Hosted by Nancy L. Sasaki, UWSD CEO, and Jose Cruz, Council on Literacy CEO, weekly episodes will feature a range of notable and engaging guests, including education experts, political figures dedicated to improving our region, and influential changemakers passionate about equity for all children and families. Tune in to The Gap Minders wherever you listen to podcasts!  

United, we can mind the gaps and address inequities so all children and families in San Diego can make their dreams come true. To get involved with UWSD, visit

How UWSD Impacted San Diego County in 2021

By |2021-12-22T13:22:46-08:00December 21st, 2021|Categories: Community Impact|

How UWSD Impacted San Diego County in 2021

Young elementary student reading a book

Written by: Calina Nguyen, Marketing Coordinator

United We Can

The last couple of years have been challenging as COVID-19 has affected our community. During the height of the pandemic, racial inequities were highlighted and disparities widened. With the gaps growing, many San Diegans today struggle to get by as the economic crisis of COVID-19 continues.

This is why we are centered on education and family stability, supporting those in the community who have fallen behind. Through our initiatives and community collaborations, we’re able to help the children and families who need it most to close the gaps.

Last year:

  • 30,865 San Diegans were impacted countywide
  • We had 135 Partners
    • 97 Partners collaborating on shared goals from a variety of sectors: early and K-12 education, business, government, work-force, higher education, health, and non-profit
  • 38 Schools working in partnership with United Way 
  • 284 Volunteers engaged in virtual and on-site volunteerism

We would like to share how we were able to approach these disparities in our community and how it impacted the lives of San Diegans:

Early Childhood Success

Reader in the Heights (RITH)

There is no doubt that making good reading habits increases academic competency but is also extremely beneficial for a child’s personal development and growth. The Reader in the Heights initiative originally aimed to provide children with an in-person summer camp-like experience for expanding their literacy. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it shifted to an at-home family-focused program. One would imagine this shift would decelerate the goal of this initiative. Although, the effects of this alteration were incredibly profound:

  • At three months post-implementation, 85% of parents reported that their child enjoyed reading and 70% of parents reported feeling confident in helping their child read.
  • Families bonded around reading and changed their at-home family reading habits; they observed growth in their children’s interest in reading and comprehension, learning more about their child’s abilities in the process.

Due to the incredible help of our partners (City Heights Development Corporation, City Heights/Weingart Library, Council on Literacy, Karen Organization, Words Alive) and the persevering drive of parents, students were able to build strong family reading habits and excitement around reading despite the challenges presented during the pandemic.

Every Student, Every Family (ESEF)

There are so many obstacles that can affect a child’s chance to be more successful in school. Factors such as food insecurity, lack of access to technology, caring for their siblings, job loss, and more make it harder for these students and families to not only survive but thrive. 

Every Student, Every Family is helping to put an end to such disparities. ESEF is a network of school and community partners, convened by United Way of San Diego County (UWSD), that creates equitable support systems for youth and families so that students can be successful in school and beyond. ESEF addresses both the educational needs of historically underserved students and the needs of their families in City Heights, Lemon Grove, and Escondido.

In this past year due to the collaborative efforts: 

  • There was a 92% increase in meal distribution at participating ESEF sites.
  • Families received support resulting in newer computer equipment, enhanced broadband, and other technology-related support.
  • In Escondido, ESEF partners conducted home visits to assess needs and barriers to learning.  As a result, families were connected to resources to ensure their children could be successful in school.

Youth Success

Advancing San Diego (ASD)

Today, having the opportunity to showcase your talent and gain work experience during college is imperative to getting hired after graduation. Unfortunately, there are still underserved youth in our local community who cannot find jobs in high-demand industries due to lack of experience. Over 60% of local jobs require some level of post-secondary education. But many of our students aren’t prepared, and they’re missing out on these local opportunities.

Advancing San Diego, a collaborative effort among community partners, local businesses, educational institutions, and UWSD, is providing paid internship experiences to help increase access to local jobs for underserved youth in fields such as software engineering, manufacturing, sales, and marketing.

Last year alone, 93 local students interned at 46 companies helping these students have a stronger future with real-world experience in high-growth industries like software, health care, and life sciences.

UWSD continues to leverage its data and evaluation skills to serve as the local evaluator of this collaborative effort. In addition, UWSD has established a local evaluation advisory committee to ensure that diverse voices are being represented within this initiative.

Family Stability

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Coalition

For many families, a tax refund can mean the world and help address economic disparities. It can help get bills paid, provide new clothes and supplies, or go towards buying a safe and reliable car to help transport their children to school.

The EITC Coalition, a collaborative initiative among UWSD and other partners in the county, provides much-needed financial relief for low-to-moderate-income families. Families received $28 million in refunds last tax season. This free tax preparation assistance made it possible for these families to receive important tax credits that have helped put food on the table, pay rent and utilities, and cover other basic necessities.

  • 15,556 individuals received free tax preparation assistance.
  • 29,876 federal and state returns filed, totaling over $28 million in federal and state refunds last year.

Worker Assistance Initiative (WAI)

The need for collaboration never felt stronger than when COVID-19 hit our country and our San Diego region. Families found themselves struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. 

In response, UWSD launched the Worker Assistance Initiative to support individuals and families with rent, mortgage, and utility payments. WAI was part of the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund, a collaboration among The San Diego Foundation, the County of San Diego, San Diego, and Imperial Counties Labor Council, SDG&E, and UWSD.

Due to the incredible generosity throughout the community:

  • $2,006,222 was distributed to help San Diegans keep the lights on and a roof over their head during the pandemic.
  • 10,682+ individuals received rent, mortgage, or utilities assistance.  

While things have changed since those initial months of the pandemic, many families are still vulnerable and struggling to get by. Some don’t know where their next meal is coming from or how to pay rent as they face affordable housing challenges. The gaps and widened disparities created from the pandemic will take time to close. That’s why we continue to fight for family stability and those who have fallen behind in San Diego.

Our work to ensure that all children, young adults, and families can thrive doesn’t stop here. UWSD is dedicated to doubling down with our expert partners to find solutions for some of our region’s most pressing needs. We are elevating the best ways to support educational success and family stability built on proven practices, solid data, and strong community partnerships. With your support, we can close the gaps in our community and create a bright future for San Diego. Please consider donating now to help us continue our work.

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