Category: Education Matters

New Agreements Give Big Boost to Eliminate Summer Melt: A Summer Transition Team Update

The unofficial start to summer has begun, and with that the official start to an often-overlooked phenomenon of “summer melt” – a surprisingly common occurrence when college intending Hartford students – those who graduated, completed SAT’s and college applications, got accepted – ultimately fail to show up on campus in the fall. Hartford students who have overcome significant hurdles to graduate high school find this next leg of the race particularly difficult to transcend.

First generation students, especially those from urban settings like Hartford, tend to lack support networks to help them through the often-frustrating process of enrolling in college. School counselors aren’t available over the summer, relatively few family members have been to college, peer pressure from friends who are not college-bound, and the allure of paychecks from jobs over the summer can all actively discourage them from that final step in the college matriculation process.

Promisingly, interventions like the “summer melt initiative” launched by the ALL IN! coalition have shown progress in increasing the number of students who enroll.  Efforts to mitigate attrition among college-intending high school graduates — which include phone calls, text messages and personalized email reminders from outreach specialists – can be what inevitably makes them successful in navigating this transition.

Now in its third year, the summer transition program is getting a major boost of additional resources to support more Hartford graduates.  Three higher ed institutions have signed MOU’s with the coalition to provide the list of Hartford students who have applied and were accepted, simplifying and standardizing the process of connecting directly to the right students. The schools include: Manchester Community College, Capital Community College and Central Connecticut State University.

In previous years, students have been nominated for the Summer Melt action team (now referred to as Summer Transition) by their school counselors, based on the criteria that they have been accepted to college, are not in any other summer program, and seem at risk for not actually enrolling for the fall.

With an accurate list from the higher ed institutions, outreach specialists can focus their efforts on connecting more graduates to the colleges they planned to attend with greater efficiency.

So, over the next few weeks many of us will attend high school graduations, celebrating the achievements of those who worked hard to achieve the dream of maybe being the first in their family to go to college, let’s remember those Hartford students who will need a little extra support over the summer to fully realize these important dreams.

Seeing it Through: It’s Time to Talk about Retention

Only 25 percent of Hartford Public Schools graduates earn a post-secondary degree within six years of graduating, while about 60 percent of all students graduate within six years. More than 75 percent of HPS graduates are low-income and the first in their families to attend college, so they often lack the parental guidance and support their more affluent peers take for granted and often experience challenges that disrupt their education and throw them off track.

Thinking that the number of HPS graduates entering college each fall isn’t that large a number, the ALL IN! Coalition launched a Retention Action Team to address the challenges Hartford students face in starting post-secondary education and completing a degree.

“Retention is a central issue in higher education nationally. It affects and is effected by a lot of the debates about higher education such as affordability, access, inclusion and social mobility,” says Jennifer Baszile, Ph.D., head of student success and career development at Trinity College. “We know that part of our responsibility and mission really has to do with retaining as many students as we can.”

Baszile, who leads the Retention Action Team, welcomes the chance for seemingly different institutions – private, liberal arts colleges, private and public universities and community colleges – to come together to solve “the retention challenge that we all face and identify common challenges and solutions.”

Leaders from Trinity, Goodwin, Manchester Community and Capital Community Colleges, University of Hartford, University of St. Joseph, UConn’s Hartford campus, Central Connecticut State University, and several nonprofits have been meeting to brainstorm a research-based city-wide solution.

As a first step, they provided support to Hartford schools graduates who planned to attend college by extending the ALL IN! Coalition’s Summer Melt intervention. Through the Summer Melt action team, Hartford’s high school graduates were provided with one-on-one support from HPS upperclassmen through the summer after graduation so that they completed the necessary steps to begin college in the fall. The Retention Action Team provided mentors so the incoming freshmen could receive support through early September.

“That first month of college is a huge transition period,” says Chris Marcelli, Achieve Hartford’s staff support person to the Retention Action Team.

This spring, the team enters the pilot phase for a more robust peer mentorship intervention. Trinity, University of Hartford and Manchester Community College are working right now to identify two mentors each who are HPS graduates and older students at their institutions. The three schools plan to hold a joint training session for the students, preparing them to become peer-mentors to second-semester freshmen this spring and then again to incoming freshmen next fall.  Leaders from these institutions hope each mentor will work with between five and 10 mentees, depending upon whether they can find compatible matches.

Research and past experience show that mentor-mentee relationships only work if both the mentor and mentee have bought into the arrangement, says Aaron Isaacs, dean of students at the University of Hartford.

At Trinity, the retention rate for first generation students is higher than the college average, says Baszile. “When we institutionalize supports, we know the results are outstanding.”

Mentors will be tasked with helping new students navigate college and all that it entails, including financial aid, scholarships, loans, academic and social support and persistence in the face of academic and social challenges. Ultimately, once the program is fully implemented, Baszile says, action team members hope that an HPS graduate could walk on any campus in the region and know there are peer mentors from Hartford who look like them and are ready and able to help them adjust to college and connect with institutional support systems such as academic centers, work-study programs, counselling and health services.

Many first-generation students don’t know about all the supports that are available to students, including Educational Opportunity Programs designed to meet the needs of first-generation students, says Isaacs.

The University of Hartford has identified one mentor who has demonstrated perseverance and hard work, has made connections on campus and who wants to help other HPS graduates when they first arrive at UHart, he says. They’re looking for another mentor with similar qualities.

In this pilot year, up to six mentors will be receive stipends of up to $1,650 through funding from the ALL IN! Coalition, Marcelli says.

At Manchester Community College, staff is looking at Hartford Public School graduates who participated in the summer bridge program who are willing and able to serve as peer mentors, says Sara Vincent, interim director of strategic enrollment management. The program will be offered in partnership with Enrollment Services and programs designed for new and first-year students, providing additional resources such as programs focused on study skills and academic success.

In the pilot stages, there won’t be enough mentors to work with all MCC’s HPS first-year students. Another challenge will be establishing sufficient faculty and staff support for both the mentors and mentees so that the mentor-mentee relationship can be productive and helpful, not just an added responsibility, she says.

While still a work-in-progress, Vincent says, “we are hopeful we will be able to build a robust mentoring program that will serve as a tool to help these students with the ultimate goal of academic success.”

Who is Hartford’s Private Sector: Ethan Reid

Ethan O. Reid graduated from Hartford Public High School and knows what a difference the teachers who believed in him made in his life. Even when he graduated in 1995, he says, he felt frustrated by what he perceived as the city’s failure to prioritize education for every student.

Decades later, walking from his car to his office at CityPlace, Reid walked by High School, Inc. and observed the enthusiasm its principal had for the students and the insurance and finance academy.

“He was a breath of fresh air. I thought what he was doing with a focus toward finance was really cool. I was interested in getting involved,” says Reid, who works at a financial services company here in Hartford.

When the certified financial planner learned a new Weaver High School was being built that would house High School, Inc., he didn’t hesitate to get involved in the planning process. He brought his perspective as a product of the Hartford schools, along with a desire to improve them.

He’s passionate about today’s students and wants to see that they get the quality education they need so they can flourish, he says.

He wants to help the Hartford schools do better.

“I was lucky in the Hartford schools. I had really good teachers. I felt like the teachers cared,” Reid said. In addition to strong support at home, he says, athletics played an important role in his development. He’s concerned that opportunities for school athletics are waning.

As a member of High School, Inc.’s industry advisory board, Reid brought his passion and perspective to Weaver’s Culture and Climate Work Group. He and the others on the work group were laser-focused on creating a unified school.

How does a finance guy contribute?

“Questioning the status quo is something that I’ve always been pretty comfortable with,” he says. For example, those involved in designing the new Weaver have talked about how to shift the limited resources to improve the school experience for students.

“We’re seeing a different way of thinking about how the school could be – what could come out of a new high school.”

It’s not too late to get involved. The new Weaver High is set to open in August 2019.  “We need a whole army of people to make sure it plays out right. What about the next five years? We want to make sure that it’s still a blue-ribbon school,” he says. If you’re someone who looks at the state of the Hartford schools and it angers you, he says, you’d be “a wonderful volunteer.”

“Everyone has skills whether they know it or not that they could bring to a group. If you have a passion, you’ll find your place in a work group based on your skills,” he says. “If you believe that all kids deserve a shot at a good education, if you have some time to volunteer and help out and add one little thing to some of these kids’ lives, then you should do it. You should join.”

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