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July 11, 2014

The YMCA offers a broad range of activities and services for youth and adults alike, but one area of service that’s often overlooked is its investment in workforce development programs like the San Diego Urban Teacher Fellows (UTF) program—a program that assists students who want to become future educators in underserved urban neighborhoods in San Diego.

UTF is a Career Pathway into Teaching Model that supports students while they are enrolled as a liberal arts major at San Diego City College. Once the students complete the transfer requirements for liberal arts, they gain automatic admission to San Diego State University to continue their education. 

San Diego UTF is a collaborative project with the San Diego Workforce Partnership, YMCA Youth & Family Services, San Diego City College, San Diego State University and The Children’s Initiative. UTF has assisted more than 100 students since it began in San Diego in 2010.

All UTF students must be between 17 and 21 years old, live in the San Diego metro region and have an interest in changing the lives of children. Additionally, the students are WIA-eligible (low income, at risk, out of school, with barriers). Barriers to education and employment may include being a first-generation high school graduate, homeless or runaway, pregnant or parenting, former foster youth or disabled.

Valerie Cruz, program director for YMCA Youth & Family Services says UTF students receive various services while attending San Diego City College, including regular case management, reserved classes, academic advisement, tutoring, team-building exercises, hands-on work experience and skills-based workshops. “Our goal in developing students’ life skills is to increase their confidence, independence and responsibility,” Cruz says. “Providing this kind of support on a daily basis sets a great foundation for success and is what makes our program so unique.”

Kelly Randall, UTF case manager, explains that case managers provide students ongoing assistance and help create an individualized plan intended to aid with each students’ goals. Case managers assist students with building a résumé, writing cover letters and developing interviewing skills, and also encouraging students to complete trainings/certifications that will help increase employability. They also offer help related to financial aid applications, registration, school scheduling, time management, tutoring services, organizational skills and studying techniques. “Case managers also assist students with their individual personal barriers and help guide them through how to handle difficult situations as they arise,” Randall adds. 

As part of the program, UTF students are taught to provide after-school STEM-related curriculum for other at-risk children and youth in underserved areas. Case Manager Maria King explains that the focus on STEM education is essential because it teaches students how to keep up with the technological age in which they live and because the most desirable candidates for jobs are those with degrees in the STEM fields. “Students should be advised on the merits of taking as many math and science courses in middle and high school as possible,” King says. “And these courses need to be taught by engaged and enthusiastic teachers using hands-on and minds-on activities.”

SDWP helps the UTF program by providing advisement on program requirements, such as eligibility and supportive services. SDWP also provides a program specialist who is assigned to assist with situations and questions specific to our program and who continuously provides support for resources as needed.  

The YMCA is currently poised to recruit, select and support 150 WIA-eligible students in 2014-2015 through six cohorts of about 25 students. For more information about UTF, visit

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