Student-led Organization Helps Make College a Reality
Newark, New Jersey students closing the achievement gap
Vivian and her family immigrated to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic when she was young. In her freshman year of high school, she was still learning English.
Vivian was shy, scared and dealing with culture shock. Now in 11th grade, Vivian is on track to become the first in her family to graduate college.
In the beginning of his senior year, Israel was preoccupied with academics and other responsibilities. As a result, he delayed applying to colleges. Fast forward, now he’s heading off to Rutgers University with a scholarship, covering his room and board.
Vivian, Israel, and many other Newark, New Jersey students, take advantage of the resources at the College Success Centers. As a result, hundreds of high school students who may not have considered college now have valuable opportunities.
In a city with overcrowded classrooms and inadequate school supplies, Abbott Leadership Institute (ALI) is helping Newark’s students gain equal ground.
“There’s been a pretty extensive gap between high school and college here,” says Kimberly Ledgister, College Success Center Program Coordinator. “Many students didn’t consider college after high school and others simply didn’t know how to apply or afford tuition.”
College Success Centers (CSCs) are the brainchild of the very students frustrated with their lack of resources. CSCs are a program under the Abbott Leadership Institute Youth Media Symposium.
“We knew what we needed and fought hard for it,” says Israel. “A group of us would meet and discuss ideas. We would have notes on yellow papers all over the room.”
Their next challenge was to find funding to create the program.
Fortunately, the students heard about the State Farm Youth Advisory Board grant program. They applied and received two grants, two years in a row, totaling more than $171,000.
In just two years, ALI created five permanent College Success Centers – all run by students - and three pop-up sites located in schools throughout the city. Approximately 250 students have already used the services which are:
learn more about the college application process,
learn skills for successful adaptation to college life,
tutoring and SAT preparation,
college tours, resume building, and
Internship and career exploration.
“I started very late applying to college,” explains Israel. “It was stressful. I came to the Center and got help in filling out applications. I also learned of Rutgers University’s Honors Living Learning Community, which is a program for students with a passion for social justice and advocacy. The site coordinator kept pushing me to apply and I finally submitted my application the day before the deadline.”
Vivian’s school counselor encouraged her to be more sociable and to further her education.
“At first, I would avoid her because I lacked confidence,” Vivian explains. I was lost, but eventually came to the Center. Because I have no home computer, being able to do research there was especially helpful.”
“Before coming to the Center, I visited two college campuses,” continues Vivian. “Now I’ve been to many and had the opportunity to see colleges outside of just this area. It’s great to see what choices are out there.”
Vivian has gone from being withdrawn to being an advocate. She encourages her younger cousins and other students to do their homework, succeed in school, and attend college tours. She also speaks to audiences during ALI events about her experience and has found a passion in photography.
The Youth Media Symposium success stories don’t end here. There’s Shayla who was nearly expelled from high school and, after getting involved with the Centers, now attends college tours and turned a failing grade to a “B.”
There’s also Joshua. YMS staff worked for a year on bringing a College Success Center to his high school. Joshua stepped in, advocated for the new location, arranged a presentation at the school, and the contract was complete a week later.
“Our students are the backbone of this program and the future of our country,” say Kimberly. “College readiness is crucial to that future.”