Junia Kim has spent the last nine years teaching in the East Bay, and during that time, several students in the foster care system have come and gone from her classrooms. Sometimes, they’d leave without warning after being placed in a new living situation.
Witnessing that instability, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kim was inspired to create Project re:Fresh, a free after-school program for foster youth, students with unstable housing, and youth who immigrated to the United States as unaccompanied minors.
Sign up for Project re:Fresh
Students can sign up by filling out the registration form at seen52.org/refresh. You can also register on-site with a guardian present.
750 International Blvd.
Mondays and Thursdays
28200 Ruus Rd.
Tuesdays and Fridays
Her goal is to offer those students a multi-purpose space where they can get homework help or work on creative projects ranging from building a solar lamp to learning how to use a soldering iron or laser cutter. The pilot program launched earlier this month in Oakland and Hayward and is open to middle and high school students in Alameda County. On Mondays and Thursdays, students can go to 750 International Blvd. in Oakland to do hands-on activities and flex their “social muscles,” Kim said. On Tuesdays and Fridays, Kim is with students at the Hayward space at 28200 Ruus Rd.
“I began my interest in all of this as a teacher, having youth come in and disappear for a few months and then come back. I thought, ‘What would it look like if we created a program for them?’” she said.
Project re:Fresh is a program of Seen52, an organization Kim founded earlier this year to serve students who have been impacted by the child welfare system. It’s supported by the Alameda County Office of Education, along with the Oakland Public Education Fund and Hayward Promise Neighborhoods. As a pilot program, Project re:Fresh will run until next August.
Before Kim left her job as a teacher at Lazear Charter Academy in 2020, she spoke with more than 50 students to learn what they liked and didn’t like about school and academic environments. She then tried to incorporate that feedback into Project re:Fresh. Overall, many students wanted less discipline and more time for the arts, outdoor activities and opportunities to learn daily life skills.
In addition to the twice-a-week after-school program, Kim is also planning field trips. Later this month, the group is going to Oaktown Boulders, an indoor rock climbing gym, and next month they’ll be visiting Crissy Field in San Francisco. During the after-school program, students also get snacks and dinner each day.
Kim wants her students to get comfortable making mistakes and learning from them.
“This is not just 8th period. We take breaks, we have fun, play games, and we eat outside,” she said. “The goal is to try things beyond what they see everyday. Oftentimes our students haven’t expanded beyond the five-mile radius of where they are.”
Kim named the program Project re:Fresh as a nod to the idea of refreshing a web page. During the pandemic, many students’ lives have been interrupted or put on hold, and this is a chance for them to resume some form of normalcy. The Oakland program can accommodate 20 to 25 students, but attracting young people has been the most difficult part, Kim said, largely because of transportation issues. That’s why, on Wednesdays, Kim brings Project re:Fresh to group homes in Alameda County to work with youth in their own environments. She’s also working to secure a contract with HopSkipDrive, a car transportation service for youth.
Working with foster youth also means recognizing that students may not attend consistently. During the 2019-2020 school year, Alameda County served 803 foster youth, and of those, 344, or 43%, were in Oakland Unified School District, according to state data.
“We’ve already had students who were here and their placement got switched. Knowing that we are serving a transient population has become a lot more real now that we’re doing this program,” Kim said. “If students were to take anything away from this program, aside from the fact that they’re seen and loved, I want it to be that failing is OK.”
To sign up for Project re:Fresh, students can fill out the registration form at seen52.org/refresh.