Building Student Success

Make the Road New Jersey Launches First Youth Led Student Success Center with EPS!

In September 2019, via an innovative partnership with the Elizabeth Public Schools (EPS), Make the Road New Jersey (MRNJ) launched New Jersey’s first youth-led Student Success Center (SSC), a peer-to-peer training and support network. In its first year and one interrupted by pandemic, the SSC facilitated college access trainings for 2,730 EPS students district-wide and raised Halsey Academy's college application and acceptance rate by over 30%. Today, the SSC continues its work virtually and since the start of Fall 2020, the SSC has facilitated college access training via Microsoft Teams for 800 EPS students district-wide and 200 students received 1-on-1 support to apply for financial aid via Zoom.

History of Student Success Center 

After a survey by Make the Road youth found that more than 85% of EPS students wanted to go to college, but over 60% reported inadequate access to counseling and information about college. MRNJ sought to close this gap and, using as a starting point a model observed in Philadelphia, MRNJ designed the Student Success Center (SSC) to utilize the expertise of community based organizations and the power of youth leadership.

"It was May 2020 and I still hadn’t received my financial aid package. We were in the thick of the pandemic and I couldn’t get on the phone with anyone; I couldn’t commit without it. I had worked with Jason [College Ambassador] to submit the FAFSA and NJCU's EOF application. I texted him and for the next month he worked with me to call through whole directories, get an extension on submitting a deposit, set-up a back-up plan, and finally get in touch with the Office of Financial Aid. Jason reassured me all the while not to give up on my dream of attending NJCU."
- Pierre F., freshman engineering major at New Jersey City University

The SSC Model

The overarching change strategy of the SSC model is to create a culture of college possibility that permeates a schools’ climate, classrooms and activities. The SSC is a distinct space (a.k.a. a 'Drop-in Center') within a school and the program design is three-tiered:

  1. Youth leaders (a.k.a. College Ambassadors) are trained by MRNJ staff, so that they are equipped with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to educate and assist their peers with the college admissions process;
  2. Youth leaders and program staff provide group workshops, trips, and college-awareness programming to all students, all interested parents, and staff/faculty through a regular program series;
  3. Youth leaders and program staff provide 1:1 intensive college advising and financial aid assistance at the Drop-in Center.

Through this three-level approach, we increase the knowledge base, skill set and comfort-level of students, parents and school faculty and thus, raise the expectation that students will go to college. Through the SSC, we provide the key wrap-around services to engage students, faculty, parents, and alumni in transforming the schools’ culture into a college-ready environment.

Overview of the New Jersey's First-Ever SSC 

New Jersey's first-ever SSC is located inside of Halsey Academy (one of the seven EPS high schools). Since the statewide closure of schools in March 2020, the SSC’s work now continues virtually. The now-virtual SSC is open to all EPS students during school and open to high school students across the state, including EPS students, after school. And the SSC model of putting youth at the center of the college process has generated powerful results. Since the SSC opened in September 2019:

  • 93% of Halsey seniors have applied and been accepted to college, a 30% increase.
  • 3,500 students and 850 parents have visited the SSC and 520 EPS students have submitted their financial aid application with the support of a College Ambassador, totaling nearly $1 million in financial aid.
  • College Ambassadors were featured in Scholastic and NJ.com for their work during the pandemic.
  • 110 students applied for MRNJ's 2020 College Ambassador Summer Institute, the largest class in the program's history.
  • Coordinated 21 weekly virtual financial aid workshops, the first-ever in New Jersey to do so;
  • Celebrated multiple college acceptances and full-tuition offers at universities throughout and outside of the state, including Howard University, Kean University, Rutgers University-Newark (including the Honors Living Learning Community), Stevens Institute of Technology, Union County College (including the Nursing Program), and St. Peter's University.
  • Supported more than 150 graduated seniors through the matriculation process (registering for classes, submitting appeals to offices of financial aid detailing changed financial circumstances, reviewing loan options, and much more); and
  • Collaborated with Rutgers University and Union County College in November 2020 to host multiple application clinics where students received 1-on-1 support from university staff to apply.
 

COLLEGE AMBASSADOR PROFILE:

Adrian is a high school senior at Elizabeth High School. He is one of 10 high school students who helps operate the SSC. Adrian has attended all 7 of Elizabeth's high school Back to School nights, distributing flyers, talking with parents, and booking appointments with students. In the last three months alone, Adrian has met with more than 140 high school seniors from throughout the City and supported them complete their college or financial aid application.

 

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