Georgetown Divide: A Rural California Town Repeats America's Promise 100 Best Communities Award

Harvey Chipkin
October 25, 2010

Located in a canyon reachable by a single road, and with a population of only 13,000, Georgetown Divide has captured national attention with its unusually broad-based and effective programs for young people. Here's a look at how they did it.

As noted by America’s Promise Alliance in its latest announcement of the 100 Best Communities For Young People, the impact of five years of youth development in Georgetown Divide “cannot be overstated.”

The people of The Georgetown Divide, according to America's Promise, show their care and compassion for young people through the efforts of numerous community groups and school-based programs. Those programs include (as described on the America's Promise site):

  • Counseling is available to students through a partnership with New Morning Youth and Family Services. Throughout the school district, classrooms are implementing teaching strategies that meet the learning needs of all students.
  • The Mentors Plus program, offered at one K-8 school and for freshman transitioning to high school, includes model pregnancy prevention curriculum in support groups as well as providing mentors.
  • The first major collaborative organization in the community was The Divide Community Services Network, a grassroots collaborative established to bring a clinic to the community. Current projects include a free children’s book program and the annual Youth Expo.
  • Five years ago, a community collaborative formed using the Forum for Youth Investment community development framework and support. Georgetown Divide Ready by 21 (GDRB21) brings together committed partners who understand and support youth development. Members include school and community leaders, organizations such as the Rotary Club, churches, businesses, key county organizations that support our youth, parents and youth. 

Achievements for GDRB2 include toddler literacy programs, a local resource guide for birth-5, funding for a mental health provider for birth-5, youth trained as evaluators, increased after-school programming, program enhancements to ease the transition to freshman year, and use of a process to improve youth program quality n schools and organizations.

  • In 2009, the Black Oak Mine Unified School District was awarded a three-year CalServe service-learning grant, with the option to apply for an additional three years. More than 20 teachers were trained the first year, along with several community partners, on how to do service learning projects using the best practices model developed by the National Youth Leadership Council.

Through this program, a 6th grade class conducted a survey that revealed that students' biggest concern was bullying during recess. The students decided that structured activities at recess could make a difference and created several activity stations. Bullying significantly decreased, referrals to the office during recess have declined and teachers have said that there has been a complete change in the climate of the school inside and outside the classroom.

Another example: A 9th grade class conducted a community needs survey that revealed that a group of pregnant women recovering from drug addiction at a local treatment center were in need of supplies for their babies and young children. The youth launched a campaign to collect clothing, equipment and toys.

Rob Schamberg, currently executive vice president of The Forum for Youth Investment, spent 15 years at Georgetown Divide, some of them as superintendent of the school district. He remains a member of the Georgetown Divide Ready By 21 board.

In an interview, he talked about how a town covering 412 square miles, with seven different school sites and with average income on the low side came together to make Georgetown Divide the youth-supporting place it has come to be. He said it started with the formation of a “dream team” of local activists who emerged from the school district and elsewhere.

Once formed, the group successfully earned a grant of $3 million in 2005 targeted at safe schools and healthy students. With that capital, says Schamberg, Georgetown Divide was off and running.

One very successful initiative was launched as a result of a heavy drop out rate in the single high school. A ninth grade raft trip was inaugurated in the second week of school where teachers and all ninth graders spend a day rafting. Today, says Schamberg, “fifth graders are already looking forward to that raft trip.”

A Link Crew was formed, linking juniors and seniors to incoming freshmen. They join together for a welcoming event that includes joint activities.

The bottom line, says Schamberg, is that even though some of the “dream team” have retired and new people have moved into town, the progress has been sustained – and even enhanced.

Schamberg gives credit to Georgetown Divide’s school board for “creating the kind of fly wheel that just keeps going, even during tough times.”




Harvey Chipkin is senior editor with Child Advoacy 360, SparkAction's Improve Communications section content partner and the sponsor of the Communications as Catalyst Campaign.