Girls Paving the Way Initiative

The Fund for Women and Girls is an endowment meant to boost the economic growth of the county by supporting the needs of local women and girls.

The first major grant from the Fund for Women and Girls was made to the U.C. Santa Cruz Educational Partnership Center for $450,000 to spearhead the Girls Paving the Way Initiative, a collaboration involving the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and six other local community partners.

The ideas and direction for the initiative came from an advisory group of local education, nonprofit, government, and other foundation and philanthropic leaders, including parents and classroom teachers.

Focusing on middle school-aged girls was determined to be an important stage in a young girl's life and an opportune place to start. The project sought to improve the chances for success in school and life for 35 girls at Lakeview Middle School in Watsonville, who got 6 hours a week of extracurricular activities throughout grades 6-8. The cohort ran from 2018 - 2020.

Although the COVID pandemic interrupted the final year of in-person activities, the program successfully concluded with a summer Virtual Academy. Evaluation showed that the girls made greater progress toward meeting state standards in Math and English Language Arts than their classmates. Unexplained absences, suspensions, and tardiness were reduced. And perhaps most importantly, through their Individual Success Plans (ISP) each girl learned how to chart her own success and develop future goals.

One participant shared, "Girls Paving the Way taught me to love myself and accept myself. That girls can be doctors and anything they want to be. That I am strong."

Now, thanks to a federal grant, Girls Paving the Way alums and 1,500 other Pajaro Valley students are able to access similar services from 7th grade through their first year in college, an extraordinary outcome that our 3-year project helped inspire. Our Engagement & Impact Committee will continue its work, guiding the fund’s investment in a Santa Cruz County where women and girls are safe, healthy, equal, and empowered.

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