College Access is a phrase that you are probably familiar with. Access to higher education has been a part of the national conversation for a better part of a decade, but how that plays out within different organizations and communities can vary greatly. Here at St. Stephen’s, we have made a commitment to expanding our programming related to college and career access and success. Our commitment lines up with our broader mission, to serve students age 5-25, and continue to support them and their families as they create a path towards a successful adulthood.
With that in mind, we have expanded our programming to include opportunities to expose elementary, middle school and high school students to the variety of different post-high school options that exist. Over the past three weeks, we have done activities specific to students in each of these age groups.
For our elementary students, we ran College and Career Fun Fridays at both our St. Stephen’s and St. A&M sites. These days focused on exposure to information through fun activities and games. Students played college and career jeopardy and bingo, had college-based relay races, designed their own schools and logos, and even learned how to Step with the Blackout Step Team from Tufts University. Students also participated in a photo project where they expressed their dreams for their future.
Our middle school students have a college and career day coming up, and also have gone on college visits with the intent of learning which options are available for them. On May 5th, the YLC travelled to Boston College, where they participated in a tour lead by the BC Pulse students who have been volunteering with our program all year.
With the addition of Bella Vidana, the Mass Promise Fellow running the Jr. Counselor in Training (JCIT) 9th grade program, College and Career continues to be a focus of their programming. Throughout this year the students have travelled to Tufts, Lesley and Northeastern, and have engaged in a variety of conversations related to their own goals. In addition to conversations around college, the JCITs have also thought about how their long-term goals relate to the choices they make in high school. By connecting long-term dreams with short-term goals, we help our 9th graders think about the importance of succeeding in high school starting the first day of freshman year.
Our 10th, 11th and 12th grade students continue to represent the heart of our College and Career program. Over the past couple of months, students have travelled to Salem State, U-Mass Dartmouth, Lesley University, St. John’s College and New York University. These college visits have served as an opportunity for our students to see the variety of different schools that exist within Massachusetts, New England and beyond. In addition, this past Monday was the last day of an 8-week SAT Prep class that juniors participated in through a partnership with Wellesley College. Our mentoring program continues to provide students with individualized support throughout this process in partnership with SSYP staff, including me, the Sr. Manager of College Access & Success. In addition to all of these programs, it is also my role to make sure that all our our seniors are graduating high school with a clear plan for their next step. To us, this plan must be a good financial, academic, and social and emotional fit. That is our definition of success, and what we believe will help all students graduate with the framework for life-long success.
Finally, St. Stephen’s is committed to expanding the way in which we support our alumni. One way in which we are doing this is through our new First Friday Alumni series, which aims to create a consistent space for alumni to come back and reconnect with staff as well as form community with one another and our current teens. In addition, St. Stephen’s is hoping to connect alumni with young professionals in the field they are hoping to pursue through a new networking program that is rolling out this spring.
Overall, St. Stephen’s has built our program so that we can make a commitment to all our young people and their families that we are here to work and support them through not only elementary, middle and high school, but their post-high school journeys as well. We believe not only in college access but also in college success, and remain dedicated to the idea that early exposure and experience will prepare students to make the best decisions for both themselves and their families.
By: Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Sr. Manager of College Access & Success