Turning Readers into Leaders: The Inaugural CLE Reads Book Festival
On July 13th, over 125 students, parents, and community members gathered at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library for the inaugural CLE Reads Book Festival. In addition to the Cleveland Public Library, College Now served as a sponsor and supported the newly developed CLE Reads initiative in bringing the first book festival of its kind to the city.
The festival was created by three local founders, including College Now Manager of Advising Programs and Services Bailey Capelle, who were inspired by The Bronx Book Festival in New York City. They sought to carry out a similar vision in Northeast Ohio with a mission to “promote literacy and foster a deep love for reading within the Cleveland community,” particularly with local youth in mind.
Once hearing the CLE Reads mission, the 21st Century team at College Now recognized this festival as an excellent opportunity to compliment the work of the impact! program. This program, made possible with funds granted by the Ohio Department of Education through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants, is administered in partnership with like-minded community organizations. It is designed to improve students’ ACT, SAT, and PSAT scores and increase students’ college and career readiness with a focus on math and reading.
A major goal of the impact! program is to promote reading among students, as College Now knows that it positively effects students’ performance on standardized tests and college entrance exams. While some students gravitate toward reading more than others, site coordinators have found that resistant students become more engaged when they find literature relatable to their own lives. That’s why the vision of CLE Reads, to champion diversity and representation in literature, is so important: In order for students to have the best opportunities, resources need to be delivered thoughtfully.
The festival brought 14 award-winning, bestselling, and critically acclaimed young adult and middle-grade authors to Cleveland to share their works and encourage a love for literature among students. They represented different backgrounds, experiences, and identities, and spoke on a variety of topics spanning from fiction to fantasy, and romance to cultural traditions. Five authors were local to Ohio, including one from Cuyahoga County and one from Lorain County, and the remaining traveled from Boston, California, and New York to attend.
Participants enjoyed a range of activities throughout the day. Authors spoke on panels with topics on love, heroism, creating alternate universes, and more. Attendees were also able to participate in breakout sessions in which they gathered insights about building strong characters and artfully constructing plot to apply to their own writing skill development.
In addition to the rich educational opportunities available at the festival, the CLE Reads team distributed 205 free books to the students and families in attendance, many of whom were able to get their new books personally signed by the authors on-site.
College Now was honored to partner for this inaugural event and looks forward to continuing to support the CLE Reads Book Festival in their work to turn student readers into leaders!
Freezing Summer Melt
Have you ever been excited to try a new activity, only to realize it was more time-intensive and confusing than you originally thought? Were there unwritten rules that you hadn’t known about previously and even additional supplies to purchase that you hadn’t anticipated? Perhaps you quickly got frustrated and, after struggling to get advice from your friends or family who hadn’t tried similar activities, your excitement quickly dwindled, and you never actually followed through.
This metaphor offers a glimpse into the experiences of many first and low-income students in the post-secondary planning process. Despite being college-ready and displaying behaviors that indicate they will go to college, a significant number of under-resourced students don’t show up on campus in the fall for several reasons, including:
- densely worded financial aid documents, intimidating financial gaps, and confusing payment processes;
- navigating steps to complete placements tests (there are more tests?!), registering for orientation, and deciding which classes to take;
- completing housing forms, sending health records, and choosing a meal-plan;
- and numerous other hurdles.
Missing a deadline on one or more of these items can generate the difference between a first-generation, low-income student showing up to campus feeling prepared, or getting discouraged and not showing up at all in August.
In the college access world, we call this summer melt. The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University estimates that ten to forty percent of students who demonstrate intent to enroll fail to do so in the months after their high school graduation.
This phenomenon is not new. In fact, there’s been a lot of buzz around this topic for the last decade, but it remains a critical factor in our collective efforts to broaden access to postsecondary education nationally and in the greater Cleveland area.
Many institutions and organizations have implemented different intervention strategies, like automated chat-bots and text-messaging systems that “nudge” students when a to-do item is approaching. At College Now, our advisors provide numerous resources during the school year, like “transition to college” workshops, to ensure that college-ready students are as prepared as possible to head off to campus in the fall. But our work doesn’t end when students cross the stage at graduation.
Our advisors continue to work with students and remain available for questions throughout the summer. Additionally, our scholarship recipients are required to complete summer information sessions with our Scholarships and Financial Aid team to ensure they understand their financial aid awards and any potential funding gaps they may have. And finally, our scholarship recipients are paired with mentors toward the end of the summer – professionals who have navigated the college experience themselves and are able to help students overcome some of the obstacles they may face as they begin their first semester.
Enrolling in and completing a postsecondary degree or credential – or not – has long-term implications for the students and the communities in which they live. Individuals with bachelor’s degrees earn 65 percent more – the equivalent of $1 million over the course of a career – than their counterparts with only a high school diploma. The community benefits from having more credentialed residents, too. Areas with more college graduates have lower crime rates, enhanced community services, reduced reliance on government safety net services and a larger tax base.
As a community, it is in all our best interests to support students and combat summer melt. Check in with students that you know and ask them when they’re scheduled for orientation and what classes they’ve signed up for in the fall. Encourage them to thoroughly explore their college’s website and familiarize themselves with all the resources available to them. Most importantly, help them become self-advocates and build perseverance when they encounter challenges.