New Haven School Change Initiative Opening doors to college through partnerships and support.

For kids with good grades, stellar behavior records and a college acceptance letter in hand, New Haven Promise is a dream come true.
 

But for students who need a little extra help qualifying for the benefit of free college tuition, College Summit is there to help.
 

A nationally renowned program that aims to create a college-going culture in the schools it partners with, College Summit provides curriculum, structure and support for students in high school. The goal is to get students on the path to college early and help them along, almost every step of the way.
 

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo in November announced the district’s partnership with College Summit as a component of the New Haven Promise college scholarship program. The program will be phased in at high schools throughout the district as a strategy of boosting college enrollment and participation in New Haven Promise. Hillhouse High School and Metropolitan Business Academy will join Co-Op next year in implementing the program.

The contract with College Summit is worth about $290,000 in the first year, but DeStefano has vowed to pay the tab solely through fundraising.

But College Summit is not entirely new to the city and has been operating successfully at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School for the past two years, district leaders say.

Co-Op Principal Dolores Garcia-Blocker said College Summit is already getting more teens on the path to college.

“When I came to this school, my focus has been to make sure every student who graduates from this school not only gets into college but is successful there. Having College Summit in the building really helps to build the culture starting in the ninth grade,” she said.

According to its website, College Summit has helped its partner school district achieve 15 percent increases in college enrollment rates. That increase also helps lessen the achievement gap between low-income and middle-income students. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama donated a portion of his Nobel Peace Prize money to College Summit, which works with 25,000 students in 170 schools across the country.

The program trains educators to implement the College Summit curriculum and tracks student progress along the way, providing data to school districts.

“When a student walks through the door, they should see, hear and think college,” said Veronica DeLandro, Connecticut program manager for College Summit. She said the idea is to get kids thinking of high school not as a destination, but as a launch pad to college and future success.

“It’s a belief instilled in them the minute they step in freshmen year.” she said.

DeLandro said the program has helped increase college enrollment at Harding High School in Bridgeport, where it has been in place since 2008.

Fallon Daniels is the coordinator of College Summit for Co-Op. She said the numbers are already showing an enhanced college-going culture at the school.

“As a result of implementing College Summit here at Co-Op, we have seen great success among our senior students,” she said.

So far, 98 percent of seniors at the school have written their personal statement for college applications. Eighty-five percent have a list of colleges to which they plan on applying. And 25 percent of the senior class already has been accepted to at least one college.

“We’ve never had this many acceptances this early in the process,” Garcia-Blocker said.

College Summit works by providing a structured curriculum that gets students thinking about college early on and then helps them go through the college application process. It does this in a number of ways. First, there is a computer program that provides college application resources for students and keeps track of where they are in the application process. The program also keeps track of important student data such as SAT scores, grade point average and activities lists. It also allows the school to know how many students have applied to college and other statistics.

Students are supposed to get at least 45 minutes a week of College Summit-based curriculum.

Perhaps the most innovative component of College Summit is its use of peer leaders to help get their classmates on track for college success. At Co-Op, 23 students were selected as peer leaders and were sent to a training conference at Amherst College in June. There, the students got intensive training in selecting the right college and going through the application process. Topics included how to write personal statements, learning about financial aid and building social and leadership skills.

The idea is for the students to go back to their schools with extensive knowledge about the college application process and to share that knowledge with their peers.

“They are able to share the wealth,” Daniels said.

Co-Op senior Marc Lewis was one of the 23 students who went to the training conference. He sees College Summit as a good opportunity to get students to work together on a common goal, college.

“I think it’s a great program because it makes students aware that everyone can go to college,” he said.

Lewis said the peer leaders set an example for other students in the school and show them that applying to and getting into college is possible.

“It breaks down walls,” he said. Lewis himself is a success story. He is hoping to attend Columbia University in New York, one of 14 colleges he applied to. If all goes right, he will major in political science and go onto law school at Harvard or Yale. Eventually he’d like to be a Supreme Court justice.

But not every peer leader is a top academic student with a clear vision of a future. The hope is that students of varying academic ability will be inspired to achieve the most that they can and find an appropriate college that suits their interests.

Garcia-Blocker said the challenge is getting students to have the right mindset about college and to know that higher education is important.

“They need to understand the importance of good grades. They need to understand the importance of attendance and they need to understand the importance of not getting in trouble,” she said.

“If they don’t understand the game and the rules early on, then they will wake up too late and it really is the school’s fault,” she said.
 
 
story from The New Haven Register