After a pilot project based on the Hartford Student Internship Program which ran last winter and spring, the ALL IN! Coalition plans to launch another effort to support members of the Class of 2022 this January. The program will again focus on post-secondary planning and placement for Hartford Public School seniors without plans for their lives after graduation.

While students were still learning remotely in the first half of 2021, the Coalition worked with the Hartford Public Schools staff to help many who were disengaged get onto a career pathway, thanks to financial support from local foundations. With tenacity, creativity and persistence to reach students who were not engaged in post-secondary planning, nonprofit partners gave support to 92 students who otherwise may not have received help planning for and enrolling in post-secondary pathways.

“Very few cities in America put forth an effort during COVID-19 to go out and engage the students who were not as involved in school and who didn’t have a post-secondary plan,” says Paul Diego Holzer, executive director of Achieve Hartford and a leader in the coalition. “As a result, there were even students supported late in spring who ended up enrolling in a 4-year college.”

The pilot year of last-minute, spring intervention gave us some definite lessons. First, we asked too much of seniors, many of whom were busy working and helping with family during the pandemic, while also trying to learn remotely, he says. Getting them to complete workshops along with post-secondary planning and doing an internship was too much to expect.

This coming semester, we will try to reach students face-to-face at their schools. And we will keep the programming simple and focused on helping them with post-secondary planning. “They need support that meets them where they are,” he says. We also learned that we need to stick with students through and past the summer to ensure they reach their desired post-secondary placement – whether that be college, training or high-quality job.

Providers who continued working with seniors throughout the summer learned that engaging seniors during the spring and summer after graduation is particularly challenging, since seniors were burned out, especially last year with the pandemic raging. In the second year of this effort, the program will focus less on life-skills workshops and internships, since many students are already working. Instead, staff will work with them to further gauge their skills and interests, expose them to a multitude of post-secondary options that put them on a path toward earning a livable wage, and stay with them until placement.

“We hope to serve at least 100 students from the city’s neediest high schools by working with guidance counselors and community-based organizations with existing relationships with local high schools,” Holzer says. Funding to pay the local nonprofits’ staff to meet with and work with students will come from Hartford-based foundations with a long-standing commitment to the city.