Like a fledgling start-up, Watsonville TEC is looking for investors.
is an after school program that works with students from the fifth grade through high school, and also offers computer classes to parents. It's bilingual, bicultural and has reached more than 800 kids in five years.
And now it's running out of money.
"Our funding's up come August," said Jacob Martinez, the program director.
Tuesday, he will ask the Watsonville City Council to go to bat for the program. That's when two Watsonville TEC students and an instructor will receive proclamations from Watsonville Mayor Eduardo Montesino.
“It’s not just an after school program, it’s really about economic development," said Martinez, who counts city council members Daniel Dodge and Felipe Hernandez as his supporters.
Watsonville TEC has been funded by a National Science Foundation grant, but the money runs out this summer. A grant the program had been counting on fell through. Thanks to a buy-in from the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, grant money that can be rolled over, and the support of Martinez's employer—ETR, a Scotts Valley research firm—it appears the program has cobbled together enough funds to survive the upcoming school year.
But Martinez said that means reducing the program offerings instead of growing them. The parent education component will be eliminated and Watsonville TEC will reduce the number of elementary and middle schools it provides programming at.
The funding crisis comes at a time when Watsonville TEC should be celebrating.
Watsonville High juniors and Daisy Ramirez won awards from the National Center for Women in Information Technology this year. Stephanie earned a national honor, which essentially guarantees her a scholarship to the university of her choosing. Martinez said she's considering MIT. Daisy won a regional award. Instructor Ryan Morgan, who facilitates the Watsonville TEC program at MacQuiddy Elementary, was a regional winner for educator of the year. All will be honored at Tuesday's city council meeting.
Martinez said it's frustrating see the program's future in flux. He's tried to build a pipeline that begins with elementary school students to increase their computer skills and make them tech-savvy. The goal is to help them get into college and land good careers. Along the way, Watsonville TEC helps motivate kids to stay in school and out of trouble.
"But there’s a bigger picture here. What are we doing? We’re really training this kids for the jobs of tomorrow," said Martinez.
That's where he hopes the city council support can come in.
"We’re training all of these kids and sending them out there, but how is that benefiting our community locally if we’re just raising them and pushing them out? We’ve got to create some kind of opportunity for them to come back… and work in Watsonville or Santa Cruz County," Martinez said.
Although the future of the program is uncertain, Martinez is confident he can find a way to save Watsonville TEC.
“We have a couple leads," Martinez said. "I’m writing grants like crazy and I sent in a proposal to the Packard Foundation to help sustain the middle school program ... I need a base of supporters that see the value of developing the youth of the community in 21st Century skills”
The Watsonville City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers, fourth floor at 275 Main St.
Disclaimer: Watsonville Patch Editor Jennifer Squires in on the Community Leadership Committee for Watsonville TEC.