Education is for Everyone

Going Over and Above With the EOPS Program

By Derek Chartrand Wallace

Genial and jovial, Ramona Butler exudes an air of confidence and compassion sometimes lacking in today’s college atmosphere. Nestled in the center of Berkeley City College’s six stories, the third floor’s EOPS (Extended Opportunities Programs and Services) office is the saving grace of BCC’s otherwise marginalized students. A state-funded program for those educationally and economically disadvantaged, it is designed to increase the opportunity for students to enter and succeed in college by providing support services and financial assistance. In a recent interview with The BCC Voice, Butler dishes the inside scoop:

“My name is Ramona Butler and I am the EOPS/CARE (Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education) Coordinator at Berkeley City College. I also work in the CalWorks and NextUp programs. An offshoot of EOPS, the CARE program is for single, head-of-household parents who receive either CalWorks benefits, or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits for themselves or their children. NextUp is a program for former or current foster youth between the ages of 16 and 25.

EOPS is a state-funded program, designed to assist students that the state deems as “educationally disadvantaged.” This could mean that you are a first-generation college student, or that you are formerly-incarcerated, or it could be that you are a single parent. You could also be an English-as-a-second-language student, an African American man, or low-income.

Some of our services are one-on-one academic and career counseling. Book vouchers for our students help to offset the costs of education associated with books and supplies. We have a fully-functioning computer lab for students and go on campus tours to local universities and cultural events, which helps our students to connect with other cultures.

Students can come to the EOPS area to pick up an application, or they can go to the Berkeley City College website, do a quick search, find EOPS, and there is a link to the application there. Unfortunately we don’t have a secure site where students can submit the application, so they do have to print it off and bring it to the EOPS lab. To be eligible for the program, you have to be a full-time student (unless you are registered with the office of DSPS — Disabled Students Program and Services — in which case a student might be eligible to be enrolled in less than 12 units). You have to be a California resident and you have to meet the Board of Governors Fee Waiver requirement for low-income.

The program is good as far as supporting students in their academics. Being in the Bay Area, there are a lot of students who have housing and food insecurity, so, textbooks especially for those gatekeeper courses for transfer — math and science, sometimes English, anthropology, things like that — those books are very expensive. The EOPS program helps students with those costs.

The EOPS program also has cost-of-living funds available to help with transportation, some housing costs, even to help students purchase internet services for a semester. In certain circumstances, if funds are available, we can help students with car repair costs. I don’t mean if you need your brakes or engine done, but you might need an oil change or something.

Our philosophy is “Over and Above,” so we provide services over-and-above what the campus already provides. For example, Peralta has an EZPass, a bus pass available for students, what EOPS can do is give them a Clipper card which will help them with transportation costs. Say, for example, you live across the street from BART, that’ll take you 15 minutes to get here (sometimes a little longer), while the bus would take you an hour. In those circumstances we can give over-and-above services.

For CARE students who are single head-of-household parents, we help them with additional transportation costs and childcare stipends, especially if a student is here at nighttime and they need additional child care. Berkeley City College doesn’t have daycare like Laney and Merritt, so a lot of students might have a licensed provider, they might have a parent or a spouse, someone who can help them, while they are pursuing their academics. We do our best to support them in that and make that cushion available, so they don’t have to worry. And even if they don’t have anyone, they could find someone and say, ‘Hey I have this stipend, would you be willing to watch my child for a couple of hours, while I go to school?’

The NextUp program for foster youth, because of their circumstances, the over-and-above services could include what I mentioned previously, but perhaps they also need mental health or counseling services. The services are available to all, but things are on a case-by-case basis because we are using state money and we have to account to the state for everything that we do.

The state allocates funds to us every fiscal year based on the college’s number of program participants. Berkeley City College has fewer than 500, a smaller program than Laney or Merritt. The state gives us a certain amount of money. They let us know what percentage can be used for administrative costs, what percentage should be used for books and supply services, and what percentage should go to direct student aid. Now we can manipulate those funds based on services we want to provide, but the one thing we can’t do is go over the cap for administrative costs and computers and things like that. Because the state wants to make sure that we are not spending all of their money on employees and computers. Most of the money has to go to servicing the students. Even though they give us a certain amount for book services, we usually go over that amount because we want to have as a robust a program as we can.

We also have a book loan program. We purchase some books for our lending library and students can donate books to the EOPS program too. Now that a lot of math and science subjects are moving online, the challenge is a lot of work is not being done on paper — students will have to purchase a key code to an online service that can only be used for one semester. But we do what we can. What I like to do — especially with math, for those instructors who still use paper for their assignments and tests — sometimes we can print out the assignments so we can give other students copies. We have print capability; we have internet coverage; we have RITMOS, the Spanish online service, on one of the computers; we have Kurzweil for disabled students on two of the computers; we try to open it up for all EOPS students.

I have been the EOPS coordinator for about two years now. I came to this position working for Brenda Johnson, Dean of Student Services and the director of EOPS/CARE at Berkeley City College. When I came to the district, I was working as her staff assistant. Oftentimes, I would help students with the computer, or I’d be able to answer questions about financial aid, admissions and records — general questions about the college. When the former coordinator left and the position opened up, I interviewed and I got it! I had been working with the program and the students for a little while, so it was an easy transition. I really love working with the students and helping them to be successful.

Education is actually a second career for me; I came from the medical field, where I was an oral surgery assistant for about 25 years. When the dentist closed his office around 2004, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I never expected to be working at a college! Here I am, a 40 year-old woman, and I was like, ‘What am I gonna do?’ But then this opportunity opened up, so I went back to school. I knew someone who worked here at BCC and they said there was a position available, ‘Why don’t you come here and see if you can apply?’

I was a little scared because it was something I hadn’t done before, but I came and started working and retraining myself. With a lot of help, I was able to make it work. So, here I am!

I love the students, the diversity of our campus and being able to help students to expand their ideas. We live in a technological era where people can sit behind their computers and disguise themselves. We live in an era where many cultures are characterized negatively. So, being able to connect people with people directly as opposed to through the computer screen is really such a joy. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve done a few things in my lifetime, and I’m not afraid to share those experiences. It’s really nice to be able to help students open up their thought processes about what life is all about, and to stop characterizing people based upon what you think is going on or what somebody told you is happening. Everybody can come sit or walk around and listen to who’s talking to whom and who is saying what; we’re a little melting pot here in EOPS and that’s a lot of fun.

And I get to learn too! I get to learn about students, about some of the challenges they go through. We’re able to help. Even if it’s just a kind word, something like ‘you’re gonna be okay, don’t worry.’ I even get called ‘Mama.’ It’s nice to be able to help somebody get through Passport or give them a warm hand-off to financial aid, so they can get what they need, or have them talk to an administrator to help that administrator understand where they are coming from. It’s nice to help someone be heard.

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As far as the EOPS program’s potential for growth, I would like to see the program serve more students. I would like to see the district provide some housing. The gentrification of our community is stopping students from coming; even though they would like to be here, sometimes they just can’t. I would like us to have more physical space. I would like us to not be so political, but be more student-centered. And I would like to be able to help students not have to go through so much in the way of securing housing, mental health services and food, just to receive an education. I want to help students be more centered, calm and focused on their academics, so they can be successful.

To students, I just want to say, ‘Hang in there! Education is for everyone.’ People will say that not everyone is necessarily suited to go to college, but I would say that everyone should go to college — it helps to expand your ideas about what you want to do and who you want to be. Once you get to college and start meeting people and talking to professors, you open up your possibilities.”

Students who have questions or want to apply for EOPS/CARE are encouraged to visit the office on the third floor, call 510-981-2819 or send an email to BCC-EOPS@peralta.edu.

At the top – Ramona Butler is EOPS/CARE Coordinator at Berkeley City College. Photo: Derek C. Wallace

 

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