Not more than five minutes from the impressive San Antonio downtown that combines historic buildings with modern infrastructure to accommodate 20 million tourists each year lies a quiet, struggling Eastside community that seems worlds apart.
As we drove through the neighborhood to visit a local Head Start center, we passed rows of weathered wood-framed houses and eclectic yards. The Eastside area, once predominately an African American neighborhood, is now evenly split between Black and Latino residents.
Although the demographics may have changed, one long-standing structure still remains the same: the Elizabeth Tynan School Building -- established in 1932.
For several decades the campus was a starting point for many academic careers of San Antonio’s Eastside youth. Then one day Tynan was at risk of closing its doors forever. The school district had no use for the building, and the classrooms were left abandoned.
Rather than condemning the building, the city and school district came together and found a new purpose for the structure: early childhood education. Tynan would once again become the first link to the American education system for neighborhood children.
Acting Assistant Secretary George Sheldon dropped by the campus -- now called the Tynan Early Childhood Education Center -- to see how ACF’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs are excelling in a part of the city where 95 percent of the children are economically at risk.
He was greeted by the San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Sylvester Perez and San Antonio City Councilmember Ivy Taylor. Both were delighted to see Sheldon pay a visit to a center that has been a focal point in the recent reinvestment and turnaround of the Eastside community.
“Tynan is infusing energy in the area and making a positive impact in the lives of many in east San Antonio,” said Dr. Perez, citing much needed grants that have helped Tynan and the surrounding community.
In 2011, the Department of Education awarded San Antonio $24.6 million to boost children's educational achievement and community development on the Eastside.
The following year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $29 million neighborhood-improvement grant to expand mixed-income, high-quality housing and provide job training for residents.
These grants combine revitalization of neighborhoods with a focus on education, targeting students from “cradle to college.”
“Tynan is great example of making lemonade out of lemons,” said Councilmember Taylor, who emphasized San Antonio’s more than 30-year commitment to Head Start. The city now enrolls nearly 7,000 students.
Head Start is essential to educate the future workforce that San Antonio will need to be successful, Taylor said.
Sheldon thanked Councilmember Taylor and Superintendent Perez for their support and praised the city of San Antonio and its mayor, Julian Castro, for agreeing to tack on a 1/8th-cent sales tax increase to pay for prekindergarten for 4 year olds.
“The recent initiative that was on the ballot in November to really fund quality pre-kindergarten is an expression that not only are the leaders here committed but the people of San Antonio are committed,” said Sheldon. “The president, in his state of the union, articulated that we really need to develop ladders of opportunity for people into the middle class, but he recognizes that for too many children in this country, the first step of rungs in that ladder are missing and that's why what's happening here is so important and we want to learn from San Antonio.”
While Sheldon visited with children in each classroom, he talked to invited parents, community advocates and media about the President’s Early Learning Initiative. Putting children in high quality early learning programs will result in future generations thriving in school, finding jobs and succeeding in their careers, he said.