Crossing San Francisco Bay from west to east on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, the traveler can't miss Chevron Oil Company's presence. The firm's huge refinery and dozens of squat, round oil tanks dominate the waterfront area.
Chevron looms large in Richmond's economic life as the city's major industry and employer. Over the last two decades the company has played an increasing role in the education of Richmond's children.
Through several programs, the big oil firm has sought especially to aid pupils considered disadvantaged and those who enter the work force on completing high school.
Chevron also has helped attract a number of other firms to participate in educational and job-training programs for this industrial city, which is home to many families - Asian, black, and Hispanic - still seeking a firm foothold on America's economic ladder.
In the lower grades of the Richmond public school district, Chevron employees have been participating for 15 years in a program called TRY. The acronym stands for Tutor Richmond Youth, but much more is involved than helping these elementary and junior high pupils with their homework. One company employee in the program says TRY ''opens their eyes to the outside world.'' The oil company pays the salary of the TRY program director.
Another effort in which Chevron has taken a leading role is the school district's Regional Occupational Center. The district opened its center in 1974 as part of a statewide network of job-training facilities financed with state and county funds. Pacific Telephone Company, another major employer in Richmond, was the first firm involved in the Regional Occupational Program (ROP).
Since becoming involved in ROP in 1976, Chevron has not only helped train some 250 skilled workers, it has hired more than 200 of them itself. A number of company employees are given time off with full pay to serve as instructors in ROP.
Earlier this year a new, umbrella organization was created to coordinate the job-training effort in Richmond and bring more companies, large and small, into it. Called BOOST (Build Our Organizational Skills for Training), this program is funded by Chevron and other local firms. An executive of Chevron Research Company is on loan as director of BOOST until the group gets sufficiently organized and funded to hire someone full time.
BOOST already has 18 different kinds of job-training courses preparing high school seniors and adults for entry-level positions in business and industry.
Since 1981 Chevron also has had a special relationship with a junior high school in the Richmond district. A company spokesman describes it as a ''big-brother, big-sister kind of thing.'' Each of the 40 company employees involved spends one hour a week during the school year with a pupil from Helms Junior High. This program is part of the business community's response to cutbacks in remedial reading and math programs in the public schools. A certain amount of tutoring is involved, but there is a special effort to expose these youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds to a world full of opportunities for growth.
Also in response to school budget strictures that have resulted in the dropping of all but varsity athletics in the Richmond school district, Chevron is providing some people and money to the Police Athletic League program to give as many children as possible a chance to compete in sports.
Janet Mesman, the TRY director, says pupils from three elementary schools and one junior high are now participating in the program. Some 80 children - 78 this year - are selected by the schools to be bused to the Chevron complex once a week for ''one-on-one'' sessions with their tutors. Individual tutors may help pupils with school work, but more often they provide less-structured activity designed to expand their awareness of the world outside their usual experience. Instruction in particular subjects is more likely to take place in ''workshops'' conducted by Chevron volunteers. A total of 127 company employees - 78 tutors and 49 workshop leaders - are in the program this year.
In the Regional Occupational Program, Chevron trains both high school seniors and some of its own employees as process-plant operators and industrial-maintenance mechanics. (The current ratio is 56 percent students, 44 percent employees.) Students attend training sessions three hours a day during the nine-month school year.
The company provides four instructors, two for each class. Chevron employees rotate the training assignments, teaching a maximum of two years. Each training course is designed to last one semester.
Most of the seniors who enter the program are average or above-average students who could go to college, but are considered unlikely to do so, a company spokesman said. Last summer Chevron conducted a special six-week course to upgrade students who just missed qualifying for the training course.
Hal Holt, manager of public affairs, says Chevron is not in the program just to meet its own needs, but ''to provide credible instuctors and train people in particular job skills'' that can also be utilized elsewhere. He also notes that of more than 200 ROP ''grads'' hired by Chevron since 1976 all but eight are still with the company.
The company's participants in ROP over the years were so impressed with the results that they ''found it difficult to believe all industries were not involved,'' Mr. Holt says. This feeling provided the impetus for BOOST.
Harry Rex, the Chevron Research executive directing Boost through its first year, says more than two dozen city firms are already involved in BOOST. They include banks, other oil companies, the Allied and Stauffer chemical companies, a large hospital, the local social security center, department stores, newspapers, Pacific Telephone, and Pacific Gas & Electric Company.
A total of 30 classes in 18 skill areas - including child care, computer programming, legal and medical secretarial, pipe fitting, industrial-plant operation, word processing, and graphics - are in progress.
Mr. Rex says the aims of BOOST are ''to provide an interface between the business community and the school district'' by soliciting industry participation in developing career classes and specific job training; serving as a ''central information agency,'' answering any queries from businesses; working with schools and companies in developing ''modular curricula'' to prepare students and adults to fill jobs that exist or are almost certain to open up in the future; and acting as an ''employment agency'' for people coming out of the ROP classes.
BOOST has a board made up of school, industry, and public members. Business members help with funding and provide curriculum-committee members, instructors, and counselors.
Mr. Rex calls it a ''happy marriage'' between the school district and the Richmond business community.