Last year, CPS Energy joined San Antonio Youth Literacy’s Reading Buddy program, which pairs a volunteer mentor with a second grader who is reading below grade level.
The results were impressive: students who read with their mentors just 30 minutes a week at Sarah King Elementary School improved their reading skills by an average of 1.5 grade levels. One student improved by three grade levels, said Principal Anna Garcia.
That’s crucial, says Dave Force, SAYL executive director, because students who can read at or above grade level by third grade have an 80 percent higher chance of graduating from high school than those who cannot.
This year, CPS Energy’s commitment to the program has more than quadrupled, from 16 volunteers in one school to 70 in four schools.
“We want to do everything we can to help create a successful, productive and prepared workforce,” said Lisa Lewis, CPS Energy’s vice-president for communications and media relations — and a Reading Buddy herself.
San Antonio’s high school drop-out rate has improved slightly in recent years, but it’s still unacceptably high. A program that steeply increases those chances, with such a minimal and straightforward commitment, is a no-brainer for CPS Energy.
CPS Energy has long been committed to improving educational outcomes for San Antonio’s youth. Given that the utility is owned by the city of San Antonio, giving back to the community is an integral part of CPS Energy’s mission.
For the past 22 years, CPS Energy and its employee volunteers have helped more than 300 local students attend college, through mentoring programs, internships, summer jobs and more than $585,000 in scholarships. Those programs include:
- Student Assistance for Education, or SAFE, which is aimed at high school students interested in careers related to the utility industry, including engineering, science, math, computer science, business and accounting. Those chosen for the program must rank in the top 20 percent in their class with a grade average of B or higher. Each year, a half-dozen juniors are chosen; they work directly with an CPS Energy mentor in their chosen field, then get paid work experience with utility the summers after their junior and senior years in high school. Upon graduation, each receives a $5,000 scholarship for college.
- Inspire U, a mentoring and summer job program, focuses on keeping at-risk students in high school. Formerly known as Mentoring Matters, the program was adopted by the Mayor’s Office, and in partnership with Communities in Schools, has been duplicated at other San Antonio companies. Once a month, employee mentors share a hot lunch with students and share tips on researching colleges, filling out resumes and other real-world skills. CPS Energy goes a step further, hiring the top ten of the 30 selected for the program each year for a summer job with the utility.
- Students Interested in Technical Education, or SITE: This is the first year CPS Energy has partnered with the Alamo Academies, which offers high school and students skilled training in high-wage, high demand jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree. CPS Energy chooses six students each year for an hands-on summer internship in their area of study. Upon successful completion, the student receives a $2,500 scholarship.
In addition to those programs, as part of its commitment to fostering a new energy economy in the San Antonio region, CPS Energy has leveraged educational commitments from its partner companies.
SunEdison, which built and maintains 30MW of solar power purchased by CPS Energy, funded $300,000 in scholarships to the Alamo Academies and the University of Texas at San Antonio, and an additional $100,000 for Somerset Independent School District.
GreenStar, an LED lighting company, has committed $10 from every light manufactured in San Antonio to education. So far, GreenStar dollars have benefited UTSA with an endowed chair, and will fund a dual credit mathematics program for high school seniors studying calculus.
Educational commitments — from CPS Energy employee volunteers, from the company as a whole, and from its current and future partners — will continue to be an integral part of CPS Energy’s mission.
“As a company, CPS Energy knows that everything we can do to be a part of the development of students in our community comes back to us ten-fold,” said Lewis.
Last year, she mentored a boy named J.J. at Sarah King.
“He was shy with me at first,” she said, “but by our third or fourth week, I would poke my head into Mrs. Lewis’ second grade class on Tuesday mornings, and J.J. would be out of his seat before I could finish asking him to come with me to read in the library. Students are happy and proud when their mentors come to their classrooms. That time spent reading with an adult, one-on-one, gives these students the confidence to succeed.”