PAL Center: New Grant Helps More Students
By Dianne Anderson
For once, 92407 is the winning zip code.
This month, the Pal Center Academy had bumper to bumper high school graduates, and now getting ready to implement their latest windfall grant to take them into the next three years of job training and more resources for local youth.
Dwaine Radden said their recent Youthbuild $1.3 million award is the largest grant their agency has received so far.
“It took a lot of work but we got it. I’m excited, wow,” said Radden Sr., CEO of the Provisional Accelerated Learning Center.
The three-year grant, only one of two awarded in the state, means their program can help more local youth age 16-24 years that had been incarcerated or dealing with probation. Radden said they plan to stretch those dollars as far as it can go.
The competition was fierce, but the need for the local community is obvious, he said. Local data reveal terrible unemployment and college-going rates.
“We’ll make it work for our community and the kids, it’s right up our alley, it’s why we wrote it from the heart. We had to write for zip code and some of the data we got from the 92407 zip code was so disturbing.”
Last week, the PAL Center Academy had another win despite many challenges of the past year. Their drive-through graduation was an emotional experience. Cars snaked down the street as graduates prepared to walk across the stage.
“It was really emotional for parents, grandparents. It was rewarding,” Radden said.
During the pandemic, the PAL Center pushed through without missing a step. Most of their online distance learning, Chromebooks and hotspots were already in place, and ready to transition the classroom to the living room.
Students had opportunities for scholarships, and the staff got creative to keep them engaged.
One grandmother put her five grandchildren through the PAL Center Academy, all are graduated now. Both their mother and father had passed away.
“She was crying tears of joy. It was emotional for her when I went up to the car to give her a fist bump. Her grandson was the last one to graduate,” Radden said.
An African American father, who had two of his sons that died, also persevered through struggles to make sure his son, a football player, graduated. At first, his son didn’t want to walk the stage because he couldn’t afford a cap and gown.
Radden called him.
“I said we need that young man to walk across the stage. If he needs a cap and gown I got him on that, no excuses. He almost gave up,” he said.
It’s also been tough through the pandemic. Many students have had deaths in the family.
“We’ve delivered about 12 [bouquets] of flowers, and condolence cards. Many of our students have suffered some kind of tragedy because of COVID,” he said.
The PAL Center Academy is WASC Accredited, and is seeing increased academic and athletic improvement. They are CIF Certified (California Interscholastic Federation), which also opens the door to scholarships for students.
For a while, Black student participation dipped, but is now at about 27%. CIF has been a great attraction.
“It’s what every kid has at the major high schools, you have to be part of the CIF to play at 4-year universities,” he said. “We stress academic, but we tie academics and athletics together, that’s the key. That’s definitely taken us to another level.”
Dr. Mildred Henry, PAL Center Academy founder and retired CEO, said she feels tremendously blessed that students pushed through a very hard year to achieve pomp and circumstance.
Seeing them step to the stage never gets old. She commends Radden and staff for great leadership to help the kids, and the school, hit the mark.
“We have the leadership there now who have kept it going, that really warms my heart. It could have fallen by the wayside, but Dwayne stepped in and carried it to a different level,” she said.
Last week, she was checking out a long stretch limousine at graduation, thinking back many years ago to watching her students graduate as a Sheriff’s helicopter hovered overhead.
If the zip code had been more like 90210, the helicopter may have had a long streamer saying ‘Congratulation PAL Graduates,’ but at the time Muscoy was high crime.
“All these cars were lining the street, the campus was full, we were having our graduation. It occurred to me that’s a testimony of the good happening at a place where it was unexpected” she said. “It’s been great and quite a journey.”
To learn more about PAL Center programs, see
www.palcenter.org and www.palcharteracademy.com