Holiday Spirit

Students engage in distance learning at a community learning hub run by the nonprofit 49ers Academy at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School in East Palo Alto on Nov. 5. Photo courtesy 49ers Academy.

Posted November 20, 2020

Catching students who are falling through the cracks
At 49ers Academy's learning hub, East Palo Alto kids get individual help so they succeed at distance learning

by Jocelyn Dong

When the new academic year started at Ravenswood City School District with full distance learning, staff at the nonprofit San Francisco 49ers Academy knew there would be students who would fall through the cracks: Homeless children. Special education students. Youth who take care of younger siblings because their parents are working all day. Students without reliable internet access. Immigrant children who are just starting to learn English.

These, the neediest of those in need, are the ones the 49ers Academy wanted to provide with consistent, individualized attention as well as coordinated help to keep them both in school and thriving.

So in partnership with the Ravenswood City School District, the 49ers Academy opened a community learning hub in September at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School. The hub provides a safe, quiet, tech-connected, structured learning environment where students participate in distance learning.

The program started with three groups of eight students each who meet in separate classrooms, socially distant and masked and with hand sanitizer at the ready. Now, two months in, the middle-school hub has expanded to six groups, or about 43 students, according to Tahisha Victor, the deputy director for the 49ers Academy.

Each group is led by a 49ers Academy staff member who is equipped in classroom management, but the leader is not a teacher and the hub doesn't provide in-person instruction. Instead, the staff member is a much-needed troubleshooter, a guide who helps the students to stay on track.

From 9 a.m. until noon, students participate in synchronous, real-time learning online with their Ravenswood classes. After lunch, they engage in independent study.

The program has made a huge difference for the youth, both academically and socio-emotionally.

"The first week, they were in awe that they could see other kids," Victor recalled. Even though the newness of that has worn off, and the restrictions of public health requirements keep students from getting too close, Victor said the continuing value lies in knowing there are other kids going through the same thing.

Beyond providing a safe and quiet space, the hubs are also venues for 49ers Academy staff to give targeted assistance to the students. For students who start coming to the hub after having missed several weeks of school, the hub leaders help them to catch up on their assignments. For kids who would benefit from talking with teachers during their virtual office hours but aren't aware that option is available, their hub leader helps them to make the connection.

"We're noticing that information that's being given is lost in translation," Victor said. "Navigating has been the key."

Other times, the middle schoolers simply want someone to help them understand an assignment, Victor said. "Some students have an individualized education plan (IEP), and they just need extra support to get through certain classes."

So much of what the 49ers Academy hub leaders do is personalized to the students' situations, she said. When they realized that some children were being dropped off at campus far ahead of the start of the school day because their parents needed to get to work, Victor said, 49ers staff accommodated them.

"We get here really early," she noted.

When staff realized that older siblings were tasked with being the caretakers for younger ones, the nonprofit invited the sisters and brothers to the middle-school hub. That both reduces the coronavirus risk of having siblings in hubs at separate schools and also relieves the responsibility of the older child.

"Taking off that pressure for the sibling is important," Victor said.

The 49ers Academy's longstanding mission of meeting students' needs holistically has carried over to the community learning hubs. In partnership with the school district, students receive breakfast and lunch every weekday, and if they need dinner as well, they're provided with a packaged dinner to take home. Boxes of fresh food are distributed every Monday to families who need them and include vegetables, eggs and bread among other items.

The 49ers Academy has also connected students with extra programs like physical education and virtual tutoring.

When students were recently asked how the program has helped them, comments ranged from gratitude for the quiet learning environment on campus and joy at being able to see other kids every day to an acknowledgement that the program enabled the student to catch up on schoolwork.

"You guys always find me help," one sixth-grader said. "And you help my mom when she asks, like getting a tutor and stuff."

Funding for the 49ers Academy comes from numerous sources, including the 49ers Foundation. It also this year received a $20,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund to provide academic and social support services for Ravenswood middle school students and also those attending Menlo Atherton High.

The Holiday Fund and community support are critical so that kids can reach their full potential, even in the pandemic, Victor said.

"So many kids for the most part are being left behind. I think about this a lot. If we didn't open our doors, English-language learners who've missed many assignments would be considered bad learners — but they're not bad learners; they just didn't have the support," she said.

"This is not babysitting; this is not day care. This is ... an opportunity to come into a safe environment to get school work done, and if there's a barrier, we address them with the resources we have."

Having expanded from three cohorts to now six, the nonprofit hopes to add more groups in order to serve more students who are struggling with distance learning and the chaos that the pandemic has created for their families.

"This is a small Band-Aid. We're trying to pick out the families with the most need," Victor said.

"Having the resources to address these dire needs is important."

Apply for a Holiday Fund Grant

Nonprofits serving children and families may apply for funds by downloading our Grant Application Guidelines and Grant Application Form. Application deadline: 11:59 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.

Make a donation
2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000


Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000


CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000


East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School


Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000


Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley


Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000


UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000



Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000

As of December 7th, 165 donors have contributed $145,397 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

24 Anonymous7,075
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Maureen O'Connor150
Martha Shirk1,200
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker1,000
Diane and Brandy Sikic*
Alicia Newman100
Dorsey & Katherine Bass300
Edie Kirkwood1,000
Micri & Bob Cardelli*
George & Betsy Young*
Diana Diamond1,000
Brigid Barton 2,000
Korol Family250
Lawrence R. Yang & Jennifer W. Kuan10,000
Anthony & Susan Wood25,000
Lynn and Andrew Newman*
Katherine Bryant100
Barbara Riper*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Carolyn Caddes*
Kroymann Family250
Marian Adams100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Elaine Hah1,500
Julie & Dan Lythcott-Haims250
Tess & Eric Byler150
Denise and Jeff Simons*
Keith and Linda Clarke*
Harriet Benson10,000
Arthur Keller250
Cynthia Costell100
George & Betsy Bechtel200
Ellen M. Lillington200
Tom & Nancy Fiene200
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
Amado & Deborah Padilla250
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Merele McClure250
Joanne Koltnow400
Christina Kenrick1,000
Richard Johnsson5,000
Xiaofan Lin100
Bonnie and Bryan Street*
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Jody Maxmin*
Diane and Joe Rolfe*
Diane Finkelstein250
Linda & Steve Boxer*
David & Betsy Fryberger400
Jan Aarts*
Judith Appleby300
Donald Barr150
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Edward Kanazawa300
Karen A. Latchford*
Kingsley Jack250
Richard Zuanich150
Patti Yanklowitz and Mark Krasnow100
Denise Savoie and Darrell Duffie*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Scottie Zimmerman100
Fran Codispoti250
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Dong Family200
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Andrea B. Smith100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
The Havern Family5,000
Gwen Luce and Family*
Bruce Campbell*
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Judy Kramer*
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John Keller100
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
Paul & Jane Millman250
In Memory Of

Walter Dean*
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Jack Sutorius750
Michele Wilson*
Bob Donald350
Leonard Ware*
Robert Spinrad100
August King*
Bob Simoni500
David W. Mitchell*
Paul Seaver*
Gerald Berner300
Ian Halliday250
Ray Bacchetti300
Marie and Don Snow200
Andre Jones *
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
David Sager100
Ted Linden200
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Chet Brown*
Phil Zschokke200
Nellie Perna Bartello100
Bob Donald*
Steven T. Ross100
In Honor Of

Marilyn Sutorius750
Darla Tupper3,922
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach and Thomas & Louise Phinney1,000
Polly Caddes*
Joe Simitian*
Gabby Perez & Logan Marsh250
Dr Ron Radzilowski*
Businesses & Organizations

Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Hearts & Minds Activity Center75
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Peery Foundation10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000