RISE started the College Prep program in 2013 for the members of the class of 2014. The original impetus for the program was our belief that our students were not making the most educated college choices. We have provided them with mentors and with college visits to help them make informed choices, and we have also offered SAT prep, which may become less necessary now that the SAT is a more straight-forward test.
We think the mentoring program, college visits, and SAT prep have all paid a role in helping our students become as prepared for college as possible. We also found our students need logistical help and a little financial help with the enrollment process so that the cost of books or a room deposit do not get in the way of their success. We even have delivered students to their campuses and have made numerous trips to get our kids home and back for school breaks. After observing best practices of programs like POSSE and I Have a Dream, we decided to visit our students each semester during freshman and sophomore year.
When we recruited our first cohort of students, in the winter of 2013, we drew mainly from our MATHletes program. These students tended to have some of the higher GPA’s in their class. But we also decided to recruit one or two students each year who showed great potential even if their GPA was not high. These students had one foot in the streets and one foot out.
Our first cohort of eleven students is now in their sophomore year. Two of those students opted out of college soon after matriculating and began apprenticeships for plumber and electrician, respectively. I expect each student to be very successful in those careers. Three students lost their college funding standing after earning poor grades, so they are attending community college in an effort to get their GPA’s up. Others have had some brief interruptions in school, but we still fully expect most students to have their degree within six years.
I cannot understate the personal, emotional, and logistical challenges many of these students have faced. Three of our students were homeless for part of their senior year. One student became withdrawn from half of his classes in a mistake by a college professor. The financial aid office withdrew the student’s aid, resulting in a huge bill. The financial aid office wouldn’t even talk to him anymore since he wasn’t a full-time student. When he tried to talk to the registrar about his courses, they wouldn’t talk to him either because he had a large bill to pay. The situation was never satisfactorily resolved.
RISE’s second College Prep cohort, high school graduates of the class of 2015, was probably Anacostia’s most proficient group of students in the four years RISE worked at Anacostia High School. We are especially proud of our students who have intrepidly made unusual choices for colleges, like the University of Arizona and Stevenson College outside Baltimore.
Our third cohort, graduating soon in June, has more modest academic accomplishments but is as perseverant as any group we have worked with. As I mentioned in the last newsletter, violence is common in these students’ lives, and they are eager to get out of Southeast Washington.
Many of our fourth cohort of Anacostia students have higher GPA’s and SAT’s than any previous group, and they are looking at schools previous cohorts did not consider, like Guilford College and CampbellUniversity, both in North Carolina. Both colleges have excellent demographic diversity and could very well offer substantial financial aid to any of our students with GPA’s of 3.5 or higher.
How we design the College Prep program for the class of 2018 will depend on outside funding. We do not want to be in the position of championing college for any students for whom the financial obstacles are too numerous.