Meet College Now and Harvard Alumni Tonisha Calbert and Kimberly Vargas
Many students dream of attending a prestigious institution such as Harvard University. However, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tonisha Calbert and Kimberly Vargas became the first two students from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to attend Harvard since 1989 – and both women are College Now (formerly the Cleveland Scholarship Program) alumni, as well! Read on to learn how College Now helped these two attend their dream school.
Growing up in East Cleveland with her mother and five younger siblings, Tonisha tended to excel in school. She was vice president of her class, a member of the National Honor Society, and a producer and reader of the homeroom announcement broadcasts at Jane Addams High School. However, when it came time to think about college, Tonisha did not have the money to even apply.
“The fee [to apply] was only $60,” she said. “[College Now] paid it as well as the fees for the other schools I applied to.”
With a personal essay focusing on overcoming her shyness attached, Tonisha’s application was sent off, impressing admissions officials at Harvard and resulting in her acceptance to the school and a sizeable financial aid package. However, there was still a gap Tonisha had to meet. With College Now’s help, Tonisha earned $18,000 in additional scholarships, and was able to attend Harvard in the fall of 1998. After graduating in 2002 with her BA in government with a focus on ancient political philosophy, Tonisha went on to Columbia University’s law school, earning her JD in 2007. She worked as a corporate associate for Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York City before returning to Ohio to earn her MA from Ohio State University in 2013. Currently, Tonisha is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Ohio State.
Similar to Tonisha, Kimberly Vargas excelled in school while her family struggled to make ends meet with welfare and food stamps. On track to graduate as salutatorian from James Ford Rhodes High School, Kimberly’s guidance counselor pushed her to apply to Harvard. With the help of College Now, Kimberly was able to pay for the pricey entrance exams and application fees required to submit a competitive application. Even after she got her acceptance letter, however, Kimberly still viewed attending Harvard as an impossible dream. With a $40,000 per year price tag, “I just assumed I wasn’t going to Harvard,” she said. Winning a full scholarship, however, changed all that. In 2006, Kimberly graduated from Harvard with a degree in psychology. Realizing that she wanted to return to Cleveland and her family, Kimberly then moved back home where she earned her master’s degree from Cleveland State University and went on to work as a school psychologist for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
Since Tonisha and Kimberly, a number of College Now scholars have applied to and attended Harvard University (including David Boone, a 2012 graduate of MC2STEM in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District) and other prestigious schools throughout the country. Through programs such as the Cleveland Foundation College Now Scholars Program, more students are applying to and receiving acceptances to more elite institutions than ever before, which you can read more about here.
Meet Clinton Bristow Jr.: East Tech Grad, College Now Alum, Former President of the Chicago Board of Education
Meet Clinton Bristow: East Tech Grad, College Now Alum, Former President of the Chicago Board of Education
College Now Greater Cleveland supports students in all their postsecondary goals, but when students decide to channel their talents back into education, it can be a special moment – and that’s exactly what alum Clinton Bristow Jr. did.
Clinton was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1949, but shortly after moved to Cleveland with his family. There, the Bristow family struggled to make ends meet, living in public housing and knowing, despite Clinton’s intelligence, that they could never afford to send him to college. That’s where College Now, then the Cleveland Scholarship Program, came in. Recognizing the immense potential in the East Tech student, College Now provided Clinton with the scholarships and other funds he needed to apply to and attend college. In 1967, Clinton graduated from East Tech with a variety of accolades, including the titles of valedictorian, class president and football letterman, as well as an acceptance to Northwestern University. In 1971, Clinton graduated from Northwestern with a Bachelor of Arts degree and went on to receive his J.D. in 1974 and Ph.D. in education administration and public administration in 1977, both, also from Northwestern. From there, he went on to Governors State University, where he earned his MBA in 1984. At this point, Clinton set his sights on improving education for others.
That’s why, in 1990, Clinton accepted the position of President of the Chicago Board of Education. With this position came the responsibility of managing the futures of 410,000 kids, 40,000 teachers, 601 “mini” school boards and a $2.4 billion budget. He held this position for five years before becoming president of Alcorn State University, an HBCU in Mississippi. As president of the university, Clinton headed initiatives that resulted in a doubling of the percentage of Alcorn students attending graduate and professional schools, an improving of retention and an enhancing of research in the life sciences. An inspiring individual, Clinton’s death in 2006 was felt throughout the higher education community.
College Now, formerly Cleveland Scholarship Programs, has a long list of notable alums, including José Feliciano. Part of College Now from its very early history, José went on to become well-known in both the legal and Greater Cleveland communities.
Born in Yauco, Puerto Rico, José moved to Cleveland with his family in 1952 at the age of two. However, he struggled to learn English, leading him to be labeled as “Educable Mentally Retarded” by his first grade teacher. After transferring to St. Patrick’s school at age six, José quickly picked up the language and began to excel. After graduating from Cathedral Latin High School in 1968, a College Now scholarship helped José attend John Carroll University, where he earned his BA in 1972. From there, José matriculated to the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, where he received his JD in 1975. He then began his law career, working as a legal services lawyer for Cleveland Aid Society and later as a Cuyahoga County Public Defender.
In 1980, Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich appointed José Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the city of Cleveland, making him the first Hispanic public official in the history of Cleveland. José served as Chief Prosecuting Attorney until 1984 when he earned his MBA from Cleveland State University. In that year, he was appointed to a White House Fellowship by President Ronald Reagan. After his year-long fellowship ended, José joined the law firm of BakerHostetler, where he was a partner and active trial lawyer until his retirement in 2017.
José’s accomplishments extend far beyond the legal profession, however. He has served as a Board Member for a number of Greater Cleveland non-profit organizations, including the Cleveland Bar Association, United Way, Federation for Community Planning, Greater Cleveland Roundtable, Red Cross, Cuyahoga County Catholic Social Service, Legal Aid Society, Cuyahoga Community College Advisory Board, Center for Human Services, United Negro College Advisory Board, Hough Area Development Corporation/Cleveland Midtown Development Corporation, Hispanic Community Project, Hispanic Community Forum, Neighborhood Housing Services and Spanish-American Committee and General Counsel.
José has also received numerous awards, being named one of the U.S. Jaycees “Ten Outstanding Young Men in America” in 1985, receiving the Federal Bar Association’s Boots Fisher Civic Achievement Award in 2000, the Hispanic Business Association’s Legacy Award in 2008 and the Benchmark Litigation “Litigation Star” in 2014, among others. In 2010, he was inducted into the Cleveland State University Nance College of Business Hall of Fame and in 2012, he was inducted into the Cleveland International Hall of Fame. José also has a passion for fostering growth of the Hispanic community in Cleveland, leading him to found the Hispanic Roundtable, a nonprofit organization aimed to empower the Hispanic community in all areas of life.
College Now is proud to call José an alum of the program. Keep reading our blog to learn more about the impressive individuals who have received College Now scholarships throughout our history.
Twin College Now Alumni Find Success Writing for Screen and Stage
No, you’re not seeing double! Twins Mark and Steve O’Donnell are both College Now Greater Cleveland (formerly Cleveland Scholarship Programs) alumni, and they found success as nationally recognized writers.
Mark and Steve, 1972 graduates of John Marshall High School, credit College Now advisor Carolyn Beeler with helping them get their start. With Carolyn’s help, the twins gained acceptance to Harvard University, where they found success as writers for Harvard’s renowned satire publication The Harvard Lampoon. After graduating from Harvard in 1976, Mark and Steve embarked on slightly different journeys to becoming renowned for their respective works.
After starting his career writing quips for cards at American Greetings, Steve relocated to New York, applying for positions as a writer for TV shows. In 1982, he was hired as a writer for David Letterman, eventually achieving the position of head writer for 158 episodes of Late Night with David Letterman. During his time as head writer, Steve developed the iconic “Top Ten List,” a long running, well-received segment of the show. After leaving Late Night in 1995, Steve went on to write for The Dana Carvey Show, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Chris Rock Show and more, before being hired as head writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2003. After his departure from Jimmy Kimmel in 2008, he wrote for The Bonnie Hunt Show and Norm Macdonald Live. His sharp wit and excellence as a writer has not gone unnoticed, leading to Steve receiving four Primetime Emmys and 20 nominations. Today, he resides in Los Angeles, continuing to write for TV.
Mark found success in humorous writing, as well. After his graduation from Harvard, he went on to publish stories, essays and poems in Ploughshares, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, Spy and The New York Times, as well as books Let Nothing You Dismay (1998), Getting Over Homer (1996), Vertigo Park and Other Tall Tales (1993), and Elementary Education (1985). Most notable, however, is his work in theater. His plays include “That’s It, Folks!,” “Fables for Friends,” “The Nice and the Nasty,” “Strangers on Earth,” “Vertigo Park,” and the musical “Tots in Tinseltown.” In 2002, he and collaborator Thomas Meehan wrote the book for the Broadway musical “Hairspray,” which earned them the 2003 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. Mark and Thomas also worked on the musical adaptation for the show “Cry-Baby,” earning them a 2008 Tony nomination for the same category. In 2012, Mark passed away at his home in Manhattan. He was 58.
Meet Our Alumni: Toccara Montgomery, A College Now Alum of Olympic Proportions
Since 1967, College Now has awarded $71 million in scholarships to students, and those scholarship recipients have gone on to achieve great things. As we celebrate College Now’s 50th Anniversary, we want to share some of those alumni stories with you. As the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics get underway, let’s look back at the story of our own Olympian, wrestler Toccara Montgomery. Although her athletic prowess helped advance her postsecondary studies, it was the extra financial help from College Now that closed Toccara’s funding gap and made matriculation to college possible.
Born in 1982, Toccara Montgomery grew up on the east side of Cleveland. Her path to the Olympics began to take shape after the conviction of her father for a double homicide in 1998. Toccara, a teenager who had a close relationship with her father, struggled to cope with the conviction.
“She buried herself more and more,” her mother, Tara, told Sports Illustrated in 2002. “She wasn’t hurting in school, wasn’t hurting socially, but she was hurting inside. She needed to just let it out.”
The way to let it out for Toccara, it turned out, was wrestling. As a sophomore at East Tech High School, Montgomery happened to one day hear an announcement that the wrestling team was looking for new students to join. Curious, Toccara made her way to the first practice, one of only five girls to do so. Immediately, Coach Kip Flanik recognized her talent, and pushed her to hone her abilities.
By early 1999, Toccara had won a silver medal at the girls’ nationals in Michigan. With the help of Coach Flanik, who assisted with her training costs and travel, Toccara went on to win her first national open title in 2000 as a senior at East Tech. It was at this same time that Toccara began to realize that wrestling could lead to college. However, while she knew attending college was now possible with athletic scholarships, she recognized there would still be additional costs, and turned to College Now – then the Cleveland Scholarship Programs – for help.
“[College Now] helped a lot,” she told Cleveland Magazine in 2004. “They helped me with books and spending money.”
With the help of her College Now advisor, Toccara applied for additional scholarships and was awarded an additional $1,000 per year for four years. With those funds making up her remaining balance, Toccara’s dream of attending college became a reality.
In 2001, Toccara began pursuing a degree in elementary education at University of the Cumberlands, where she wrestled for the Cumberland Patriots wrestling club. That same year, she joined the U.S. World Wrestling Team and became the first American to be named Women’s Wrestler of the Year by USA Wrestling. She achieved four U.S. junior and senior national titles between 2001 and 2004, obtained two Pan American Championship trophies in 2002 and 2003, won two silver medals at the 2001 and 2003 World Championships and took home a gold medal at the 2003 Pan American Games.
Continuing her domination in women’s wrestling, Toccara made the U.S. Women’s Wrestling Olympic Team in 2004, the first year that women’s wrestling was represented at the Games. Toccara placed seventh overall.
After the Olympics, Toccara returned to Cumberlands to complete her degree. She graduated in 2006 with her Bachelor’s degree in education. According to the Associated Wrestling Press, after her graduation, Toccara joined the coaching staff at the University of the Cumberlands, where she helped shape the program into one of national recognition.
In 2009, Toccara earned her master’s degree in instructional leadership from Cumberlands and accepted a position as head coach of the wrestling team at Lindenwood University. In 2017, Toccara announced in a Facebook post that she would be stepping away from wrestling, focusing instead on teaching kindergarten.
While her wrestling career has been illustrious and garnered her worldwide recognition, Toccara’s academic success should not be ignored. Prior to the 2004 Olympics, The New York Times published a profile on Toccara, and spoke to Coach Flanik, her high school wrestling coach.
“I want to see Toccara with a gold medal, but I will be more proud to see her be the first graduate from college in her family,” Flanik is quoted as saying in the piece by Thomas George. “If she goes to the Olympics and wins it all or if she goes and does nothing, she still has so much more to offer.”
Toccara is just one of the outstanding alumni who have received College Now scholarships and services. Continue to visit our blog in the coming months to read more about some of the unique and inspiring individuals who have come through our programs over the last 50 years.
Wow – has it been a busy start to the school year! In the past few months, our advisors have started back in their schools; we helped host Cleveland Goes to College with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the Higher Education Compact; we hosted our biggest bi-annual Bag Lady Luncheon to date; and we launched our 50th Anniversary! That’s right, we are celebrating College Now’s 50th birthday this year. We have an exciting year ahead of us, and we hope you will all join us for the ride!
We’ve been going through old files and photos, and we’re feeling a little nostalgic, so we thought we’d share that nostalgia with you. For this post, we’re going to take you all the way back to the beginning.
In 1967, six forward-thinking foundations donated $16,150 to College Now (then the Cleveland Scholarship Program, or CSP); that is equivalent to $118,000 in today’s dollars. This funding helped launch the pioneering work of helping Cleveland’s public school students gain access to college, and we are eternally grateful!
These earliest foundation funders of record are:
- Shirley & Robert C. Coplan Family Fund: $1,500 (equals $11,000 today)
- The Benjamin S. Gerson Family Foundation: $250 (equals $1,800 today)
- The George Gund Foundation: $7,500 (equals $55,000 today)
- The Hankins Foundation: $2,500 (equals $18,000 today)
- Kate Ireland Foundation: $2,400 (equals $17,500 today)
- The Perkins Charitable Foundation: $2,000 (equals $14,600 today)
With these funds, CSP became the first college access organization in the country, bringing an innovative college and career access advising model to Northeast Ohio students. This work was born out of the understanding that it takes more than just money to help low-income, first-generation students enroll in postsecondary programs – it takes creating a culture of “college knowledge” in school buildings and among students and families, which we found to be most successful when physically putting a college and career access advisor in schools.
We commend and thank these funders for their faith in our fledgling program in 1967 and for their ongoing generosity, leadership and tenacity; during the last 50 years, these six philanthropic organizations have contributed an astonishing combined total of $7.6 million.
These organizations, plus our many other generous partners, donors and community supporters, have helped College Now transform our college access model into the program that it is today. We have expanded to now serve students in more than 70 schools and community locations across four Northeast Ohio counties. Our audience has grown to encompass high school, college and adult-age students. Our menu of services has grown to include a robust mentoring program, services for students as young as middle school and loan counseling for students post-graduation, along with our traditional college and career access work.
As we continue into our 50th year, we sincerely hope that you will join us on this journey. Follow us on social media, where we will be posting interesting facts and 50th anniversary updates with the hashtag #CollegeNowAt50 – and share with us your own experiences with College Now (or CSP!) over the past 50 years. We’re excited to share our story, and we hope to hear yours.
Tips and Tricks to Ace the Fall ACT
As the school year approaches, standardized testing might be the last thing on your mind. You are worried about getting new school supplies, finding your classes for the coming year and hurrying to finish up the rest of your summer reading. You’re probably not thinking too much about how to prepare for the ACT test you’re signed up to take in the fall.
Regardless of your age (if you are an underclassman, a junior or a senior), the fall ACT test is an important milestone for you as you plan for your postsecondary journey. If you are a senior, this is likely the last time you can take the test before you begin sending off your college applications in the late fall and winter. Juniors and underclassmen, the fall is the perfect time to see where you stand in terms of your standardized test score; it gives you an idea of the areas on which you need to focus, and gives you ample time to take the appropriate measures necessary to achieve the score you want prior to the next test.
But we know that sometimes, as much as you prepare for your test beforehand (whether on your own or through some of our College Now afterschool test prep programs), you still get nervous when it’ time to take the test – and that’s okay! Here are some tips and tricks from our impACT team for ways to quickly prepare for the test. impACT is an after-school program that focuses on ACT preparation, which makes them great sources of wisdom for you.
- Relax the night before the test. Studying last minute may cloud what you already know.
- Remember that the ACT is, on the most basic level, an open-book test: everything you need to know and look for is going to be in your test booklet (English and math seem to be the exceptions though because there are concepts, rules, and equations that must be known. Make sure you start reviewing those now.).
- Eat breakfast before the test – it will be hard to concentrate on an empty stomach.
- If you’re running out of time to answer questions, we suggest guessing on what can’t be thoughtfully answered. Incorrect answers do not count against you; answers left blank can hurt because it could have been a potential correct answer if guessed.
- Write in the test booklet (underline words, draw math equations, draw graphs for science, etc.) to help understand what is being said or written.
Now, each different section of the ACT test has its own specific set of tips and tricks that you should remember when taking the test:
- English: Start by reading the selected sentence of the paragraph carefully and listen in your head for mistakes. The four most common errors are relationships between verb and subject; pronoun errors; sentence structure; and awkwardness, verbosity or incorrect use of idioms.
- Math: Mark up diagrams or sketch drawings for word problems. Focus more closely on the first 30 questions, because the questions gradually become more difficult. If you get stuck, try plugging in numbers and variables to find different ways to a correct answer.
- Reading: Use the three-stage method to get through as much of the reading passage as possible (preview passage, read passage, review passage). Focus on big ideas and look for connections among ideas. Take notes as you read to easily reference them when answering questions.
- Science: Use the same three-step method as reading. The science section is a reading section in disguise; when it comes down to it, all the science section is really just an interpretation of graphs.
If you want further help in preparing for the ACT, seek out your College Now Advisor or consider joining one of our afterschool or other community based programs. You’ll be surprised how much a few weeks of preparation can help you on the test and, with the tips and tricks above, you’ll be able to walk into your test feeling confident and prepared. Good luck!
Not registered for the fall ACT test? While it’s too late to sign up now, check out the list of upcoming test dates and register for the next test!
AmeriCorps College Guides and Career Coaches Program Currently Recruiting for 2017-2018 School Year – Apply Today!
AmeriCorps College Guides and Career Coaches Program Currently Recruiting for 2017-2018 School Year – Apply Today!
Figuring out how to prepare for and access a postsecondary credential isn’t easy, even for students who have family, friends or school supports in place to do so. For students without those helpful factors, the process is even more daunting – and can seem impossible. At College Now, we have advisors in high schools throughout Northeast Ohio who help high school students with the college-going process. However, these advisors cannot do it alone. Many high schools we serve have more students than our advisors can reach by themselves, which is where our AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides program comes in to play.
In 2009, College Now implemented the AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides program, which places fresh college graduates into middle schools, high schools and community centers to help guide traditionally underserved young people to prepare for, access and complete a postsecondary credential. Not only does College Now place these young professionals into schools within the Cleveland metro area, but also throughout the state of Ohio. Including Cleveland, College Now administrates the program for eight other host sites throughout the state: Canton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Jefferson, Marietta, Oberlin, Youngstown and Zanesville.
College Now is actively recruiting for recent graduates to serve students in these host sites! As an AmeriCorps College Guide, you will be instrumental in the work to ensure that students – especially typically underserved students (first-generation college-going, low-income and minority) – get the information and knowledge they need and deserve to make educated decisions and plans that can positively impact their future.
But the College Guides program doesn’t just help you give back to students – it also gives back to you! As an AmeriCorps College Guide, you will undergo significant training and receive valuable professional development, networking opportunities, guidance and support with career and graduate school goals. You will serve full-time (over 1,700 hours across 11 months), and, in return, receive a modest living allowance, health insurance and an Educational Award upon completion of the full-time commitment.
The College Guides is a program that is suitable for recent graduates from a variety of fields of study and with various career goals; it is a corps of driven and highly-qualified professionals getting their start in education. These are people to whom students can relate, confide in and eventually emulate as they plan for their futures and take constructive steps toward postsecondary education.
By working alongside our Advisors, the AmeriCorps College Guides allow College Now to bring services to a wider group of students and to ensure that all students who need support are receiving it. College Guides also help with afterschool programs for students to bring additional services to those who need them most.
College Now also recently implemented a new AmeriCorps program in Cleveland schools, the AmeriCorps Career Coaches program. Like College Guides, Career Coaches work with College Now advisors to ensure that students are receiving the proper support and guidance in determining their postsecondary pathway. The Career Coaches, however, have a more focused approach with the students they serve. Career Coaches are placed in five Cleveland Metropolitan School District career academies and ensure that freshmen and sophomore students specifically are introduced to postsecondary educational paths that will lead them to the region’s in-demand careers early in high school. As the early high school years are pivotal for student success, it is imperative that students receive the extra guidance and support necessary to facilitate a smooth transition.
Just like the College Guides, Career Coaches receive a modest living allowance, health insurance and an Educational Award upon completion of the full-time commitment (over 1,700 hours worked across 11 months), as well as undergo significant training and receive valuable professional development, networking, guidance and support with career and graduate school goals.
If you are interested in becoming either an AmeriCorps College Guide, in Cleveland or one of the other eight locations in Ohio, or AmeriCorps Career Coach, visit our website at https://www.collegenowgc.org/get-involved/ and click either “AmeriCorps College Guides” or “AmeriCorps Career Coaches” at the bottom of the page. Scroll down and click the “Apply Now” link for instructions on applying. If you have any questions, you can contact Bridget McFadden at email@example.com.
Some of our AmeriCorps members have blogged about their experiences in the program, giving a valuable first-hand account of the responsibilities, challenges, benefits and rewarding nature of being in the Corps.
Cleveland Takes Next Steps to Be Considered for Say Yes to Education
College Now is proud to be part of the exploratory group working to bring Say Yes to Cleveland.
The bold promise of Say Yes is to bring together an entire community to ensure each of its children has the opportunity – and the support – to go to college. Using last-in-dollar scholarships as a catalyst, Say Yes partners with communities to create systems intended to help every child progress along the pathway to post-secondary success.
Partners from the public, philanthropic, non-profit and private sectors are working together over the next 12 to 18 months on the complex path required for consideration by Say Yes.
We’re also glad for the ongoing support and encouragement from the Say Yes team. As Say Yes COO Eugene Chasin says, “It’s clear to the senior leadership of Say Yes that Cleveland is a community with a fierce desire to give its young people access to higher education, armed with the support to succeed in obtaining a college degree or other postsecondary credential.”
At College Now, we believe that Say Yes would be a game-changer for many of the students we serve, freeing them from much of the worry about how their families will finance the gap between the cost of postsecondary education and what they can afford to pay for it. Additionally, the wraparound services that Say Yes would provide for students will allow them to focus more on academics and give them the tools they need to persist to high school and postsecondary completion.
In the coming months, our work includes:
- Determining the parameters and criteria to provide last-dollar tuition scholarships to qualifying students admitted to an in-state public college or university
- Establishing a local fundraising committee and raising a significant portion of the scholarship fund as part of the approval process
- Identifying the necessary in-school and out-of-school supports and services and related public and philanthropic funding sources to meet the development needs of every child
If Say Yes ultimately approves Cleveland’s application, the organization would commit to invest $15 million in the community over six years, as various milestones are achieved. Those funds are not intended to be used to pay for scholarships. Rather, they would help to finance the scaffolding of a communitywide governance structure to manage the local Say Yes partnership and to seed student and family supports that, in other Say Yes communities, have included school-based social work; mental and physical health services; legal services; college and career counseling; tutoring, and robust after-school and summer enrichment programs.
College Now is a member of the Cleveland exploratory group along with the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland Foundation, and United Way of Greater Cleveland.
Be Someone Who Matters to Someone Who Matters: Mentor!
Imagine you are back in your senior year of high school, getting ready to go off to college for the first time. Regardless of where you grew up or where you were going to college, chances are you were pretty nervous, right?
Many of our College Now scholarship recipients feel the same way about going to college. For some, it may be their first time away from home. For all, it’s a new environment – academically, socially and emotionally – that they have not experienced before. And, for many of our scholarship recipients, they are the first ones in their families to pursue postsecondary education.
For a student graduating from high school and going to college without a parent, guardian, sibling or other relative to turn to for advice, the undertaking can be especially daunting. With this in mind, College Now launched a Mentoring Program in 2011 pairing our scholarship recipients with a professional mentor from the community who will stick with that student throughout their college career. In the first two years of the relationship, mentors provide crucial college-going advice to students. As students become upperclassmen and begin looking at life beyond college, mentors also provide professional connections and assistance to help students transition into the working world.
Growing from a small cohort of 50 pairs to now matching all College Now scholarship recipients (about 350 per year) with a mentor, the College Now Mentoring Program has quickly become a hallmark of our work. Currently, 1,200 community members volunteer as mentors for our scholarship recipients – but we still need more.
As another school year ends, we need to recruit 100 more mentors to match with our incoming class of scholarship recipients. The Mentoring Program will match mentors with students based on the postsecondary degree or program the student is pursuing, hobbies and interests and high schools and colleges attended.
Mentoring a college student for four years sounds like a big time commitment. However, College Now recognizes that both mentors and mentees have other obligations and, as such, has developed a robust online platform to help eliminate common mentoring concerns, such as time and physical location. Mentors and mentees are required to communicate on the online platform, Chronus, once a month at minimum, and are only required to meet in person three times a year – conveniently, College Now hosts mentoring program events throughout the year that bring mentors and mentees together, helping pairs meet that in-person time commitment. Of course, many of our mentor/mentee pairs go above and beyond this communication requirement, calling or texting on a more regular basis and meeting in-person more frequently.
The impact of the Mentoring Program is evident – in our first three years of mentoring, first- to second-year retention rates improved to 94 percent! This is an outstanding retention rate, and it puts College Now’s scholarship recipients on a path to 80 percent completion, the rate at which students from the highest income quartile complete college. This is a testament to the dedication of our mentors.
And, while statistics are impressive, it’s the stories of the program’s impact that truly show why mentoring is such a vital aspect of our students’ successes:
“Megan’s and my relationship is going great! She is so mature and responsible for her age and has a very bright future ahead of her. I’m proud of all of her accomplishments thus far. I find our relationship to be mutually beneficial and I hope she’s learning as much from me as I am from her. I know I’ve enjoyed my time interacting with her and getting to know her.” -Kelly (Mentor)
“Courtney is so supportive in everything I do and tries to offer me the best advice that she can. I believe it was a great match for the both of us, especially since we share the passion of art, and a passion for OSU.” –Taenyshia (Mentee)
“College Now has given me the opportunity to make a professional connection with someone in my field of study. This organization has allowed me to get more insight into what I want to do and I’m eternally grateful.” -Charles (Mentee)
“Devonna is great – such a bright and enthusiastic woman…..During our most recent exchange she did mention that she thinks we are a perfect match, with which I wholeheartedly agree! There are several similarities in how we think about our impact on the world and how we go about creating this impact which makes our mentor/mentee relationship a great deal of fun and even more meaningful.” -Charity (Mentor)
If you are interested in becoming a mentor with College Now, please visit our website. You can contact Madeline Rife, Mentoring Program Manager, with any questions or concerns at 216.635.1063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be someone who matters to someone who matters. Become part of the College Now Mentoring Program today.
Examining the Need for Wraparound Services
The old adage claims that it takes a village to raise a child. At College Now, we also believe that it takes a village to educate a child, and that village includes people as well as wraparound services that remove obstacles to student success.
The students with whom we work at College Now are often saddled with a number of barriers to success, stemming from family, health and/or economic challenges. Facing any number of these obstacles makes academic success a challenge, as students may find themselves sidetracked during their studies, unable to find the time to meet all their responsibilities or they might be unable to physically make it to school at all. Providing wraparound services for students at their school buildings provides a higher level of support that helps them succeed academically and personally.
Wraparound services can include anything from health and wellness care to mental health services, parent and family programs to legal and economic supports. By offering these services in school buildings, challenges to accessing such services, like physical distance, are eliminated. Wraparound services bridge gaps between parents and schools, creating a stronger relationship between families and their children’s education, which is critical to student success.
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District partnered with United Way of Greater Cleveland in 2013 to identify Investment schools within the district, designating a Lead Agency to coordinate wraparound services within each school. These Investment schools would create a framework for providing direct and comprehensive services to address the needs of students, families and community members. College Now was chosen to be the Lead Agency tasked with implementing robust wraparound services in John Adams High School. Since then, through the work of College Now’s Wraparound Site Coordinator, we have strengthened existing programs and developed strategies for new programming to meet the academic, physical, social and emotional needs of those at John Adams and in the community. John Adams offers enrichment programs for students after school and during the summer; guidance to parents about staying involved in their students’ academic lives; adult education and career support; medical, dental, mental health and social services; early childhood support; and community and economic development services.
At John Adams, the overarching goal of the wraparound services offered is to ensure that students complete high school with a plan for their postsecondary education and career choices. The strategy is focused by four core principles: comprehensiveness, coordination, coherence and commitment. This means that staff at John Adams aim to respond as comprehensively as possible to the needs of students and parents; coordinate the involvement of all stakeholders; ensure that supports and services are coherent and aligned to the instructional program at John Adams; and commit to these wraparound strategies as long-term and not just a one-off program or project. You can read more about John Adams’ wraparound strategies and their goals on the school’s website.
As College Now has seen at John Adams High School, wraparound services are an important part of creating a supportive academic environment. When students are struggling for any reason, be they sick, hungry or faced with legal concerns, they are less likely to put their focus into their schoolwork. When parents and families are unsure how to interact with school administrators and teachers, their concerns are left unaddressed and issues may not be resolved. Implementing wraparound strategies in high schools provides the supports necessary for academic and personal success and also demonstrates the commitment a school and organization has to students, families and the broader community.
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Getting Students on a Postsecondary Path Must Start Early!
Reaching students early in the college-going process has always been a priority for College Now. However, in recent years, College Now has strengthened its early awareness work in an effort to reach students earlier than ever and begin the discussion about their secondary and postsecondary goals – often reaching students as early as eighth grade.
Eighth grade?! But why do students need to be thinking about college so early?
Well, we’re not asking students to make major life decisions or fill out their college applications starting in eighth grade. What we mean by early awareness is that we want students to start thinking about their futures from an early age. The foundation for postsecondary success must be laid early, giving students a game plan and outline for their high school years.
Working with students in eighth grade, before they have entered high school, gives advisors and students a chance to discuss the often-challenging and stressful transition between middle and high school. According to the National Education Association, “ninth grade course failure and retention are strong predictors of dropping out of high school,” meaning that helping students successfully transition from middle to high school is imperative to helping them complete their high school programs. Reaching students early helps them navigate this tricky point in their schooling, and start high school on the path to success and graduation.
College Now has instituted a summer bridge academy called “Rebel Up” at John Adams High School to work on this exact issue, meeting with a cohort of eighth grade students during the summer before they begin their freshman year of high school. During this time, advisors help the students get acquainted with their new high school and discuss high school expectations. The 22 students in the initial Rebel Up cohort who continued their high school educations at John Adams showed a 90 percent attendance rate in 2016 – a very promising statistic for these ninth graders, as ninth grade attendance has been shown to be a strong indicator of high school graduation, and can also better predict if a student will fail a course than their test scores!
Even once they transition to high school, many students do not even begin to think about their plans for after high school until they are upperclassmen, which is too late. This can pose a number of problems. First, students may have struggled academically early in high school – even up until they started to think about college – leaving them with a low GPA and, possibly, insufficient classes to meet the requirements of their postsecondary programs of choice. Additionally, students may not have taken the necessary standardized tests to apply to their preferred schools. Even if they have taken the necessary tests (the ACT and/or SAT), a lack of focus during their early high school years may mean that students haven’t prepped for the test, or haven’t given themselves enough time to take it more than once; students may be stuck with lower scores than they would like or need, without the opportunity for improvement.
Additionally, when students do not consider their postsecondary options until late in high school, they miss out on the opportunity to pursue a high school curriculum that sets them up for success in a particular field. Identifying possible programs or areas of interest early on enables students to shape a high school pathway that can lead to the successful transition into postsecondary studies
College Now works with students on career pathway maps, helping them focus as eighth, ninth and tenth graders on their skills and interests, and where those may be needed in the workforce. With workforce needs changing, we help students identify career fields that will have a growing need for workers, ensuring that their postsecondary choice will fit into the current economy. This saves students time and money in their postsecondary studies, as they leave high school with a guided pathway and vision as to what they need to do to complete their higher education.
If you are an early high school student, the parent of a student or a community member who works with younger high school students, take time to think about life after high school. Although it may seem early, the sooner you start discussing their plans, the better.
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