Across Summerís Shaky Bridge to College, Help from Other Students

by Barbara Cervone

September 13, 2012

NEW YORK, NYóWhen graduating seniors walked across the stage at InTech Academy in the Bronx last June, applause, hugs, and tears showered their steps. In a school where 80 percent of the students are low-income and in a district where 40 percent of the students drop out, all but two percent of InTechís class of 2012 had earned their diploma. A whopping 97 percent planned to attend two or four-year colleges. Every day since their freshman year, these studentsí teachers and counselors had talked college to themólaying out the application process, working to keep them on track, stoking hope.

Young Women's Leadership Network (YWLN) and its College Bound Initiative (CBI)

YWLN supports two life-changing programs that empower students to break the cycle of poverty through education: a high-performing network of all-girls public secondary schools (five in New York City and nine affiliate schools in four states) and a comprehensive college guidance program for 6th through 12 graders in 19 partner schools in New York City.

Since 2001, more than 5,600 low-income students served by YWLNís College Bound Initiative (CBI) have been accepted to college. Data supported by an independent evaluation indicate that CBI students achieve four-year college degrees at more than double the rate of their peers. Approximately 70 percent of CBI students report that they are the first in their family to go to college.

The "Bridge to College" program, featured here, is a collaborative program of The Urban Assembly, CUNY At Home in College, College Access: Research & Action (CARA), and a new strand of the CBI initiative.

Signed, sealed, deliveredóor so it seemed. In fact, the upcoming summer months would continue to test the college bound conscientiousness of these students. They had to turn in health and immunization forms, finalize or patch holes in financial aid packages, secure dorms if they were going away to school, tidy up family matters, pre-register for classes, and more. Some of the students crossing the stage that June night hadnít yet applied to college. They thought they would postpone college for a semester or two while they took a break from school, or they suspected that college wasnít for them.

Staff at the College Bound Initiative (CBI) that had placed a full-time college counselor at InTech Academy and 18 other NYC high schools during the school year knew firsthand that the summer between high school and college posed ongoing challenges for first-generation students. "The 'summer melt' has been well documented," says Gina Avila, alumna and partnership manager at CBI. "And despite the passion and determination of our students, we worried that the complicated circumstances they face in their everyday lives put them at risk. We felt compelled to do something about it."

This past summer, CBI joined up with the Bridge to College Program, a collaboratin between the Urban Assembly, CUNY At Home in College and College Access: Research & Action (CARA).

Through this program, alumni from over 70 participating schools who are now college sophomores, juniors, and seniors, were trained to provide the ongoing, hands-on coaching and support those following in their footsteps. Once trained, these near-peer "college coachesĒ were paired with the high school they had attended, on call to provide assistance to any student who needed itófrom helping secure immunization records to gaining last-minute college admission for students who hadnít yet applied.

"Bridge to College gives us a great opportunity to capitalize on the wisdom of our staff and the success of our alumni and share that with future generations of CBI students," says Avila.

WKCD recently had a chance to interview two CBI alumni who served as peer coaches this summer.


Yariel Acevedo

InTech Academy, Bronx, NY, í11 Harvard University í15 (Sociology and Pre-Med)

It wasnít until my junior year that I started thinking seriously about college. Thatís when my counselors and teachers started really preparing me for the challenges of college and the rigor of the curriculum, telling me I needed to think about this or that, or apply to this summer program, or do these extracurriculars. Without those mentors, I would not be where I am today. As for the summer before college, I pretty much was on my own.

Joining CBI was an easy decision for me.

After the training, I organized a transition-to-college workshop at InTech, my school, and I spoke to all 115 of the seniors and told them my role over the summer: how Iíd be in the college counselorís office every day, that Iíd hold a mini-session to introduce them to the issues that might come up over the summer. A lot of the students were already done with the process and needed an extra push. But many hadnít completed the process yet or hadnít heard back from schools or were still unsure about heading straight to college.

More than 50 percent of the students who came to the kick-off workshop came back for help.

Some were just confused about the next step; they had their acceptance letter but didnít know what the next step was, like turning in their immunization form, all of the little things they needed to get done to secure their acceptance. Probably the most crucial part of my job this summer was making sure they stayed on top of these little things before they became big things, real blocks to their starting college in the fall.

Often this meant pushing kids to get on the phone and talk to someone at the college. They were afraid to make the call, and I had to coach them to be independent. Sometimes it meant my physically taking them to the college, if it was in New York City.

I had several students who wanted to take a semester or year off before college. I was there to counsel them that that was not the best option, that they really should be thinking about college and starting in the fall because so many kids who think they want to start college in the spring donít. Itís so much harder to apply in the middle of the year, without a team behind you and pushing you, when youíre on your own and lose track of whatís important. Those students were the ones I had to work the most with, pretty much holding their hands, going step by step through the whole process and making sure they got things done.

One student I coached was set on going to the SEEK Program at John Jay College. This is one of those programs where the spots fill up quickly and you need to get all of your paperwork done ahead of time, you canít sit back and say ďHey, it will come to me.Ē No, you will lose your spot at the school and have nowhere to go. Thatís exactly what happened with this student. So he had absolutely nowhere to go to college. He came into the office in late June. I took him to visit Monroe College and helped him apply and keep on top of deadlines.

Another student was someone in serious dobut of graduation.. He believed no one had high expectations for him, which is kind of sad to say, because he always put a guard up where heís this tough kid that no one really thought would buckle down. But lo and behold, he graduates. He was set on going to Dutchess, which is a community college upstate in Poughkeepsie, but heíd been pretty loose about it and found out he wasnít going to be able to afford to dorm, which meant he couldnít afford to go away to school. So we called Bronx Community College. It was mid-July, I personally took him to visitóand he applied right then and there. I started to see a change in his personality: he started asking me all of these questions about college, he got really excited, and he completed all of his paperwork. He told me how appreciative he was that I was there for him, which was a good feeling.

It helped that our training as peer coaches included specifics about the CUNY system, since that was where so many students were going. We learned how to navigate the system.

We also learned how to manage a work log, which is where we kept all of our data on students and where they were in the process. We learned to be consistent so if other people checked our work log, they could easily tell where a student was at and how we could better help them.

One of my biggest challenges as a coach was to present myself to students so that they didnít see me as just a friend, but as someone they needed to take seriously. You have to find that healthy balance where they know they can reach out to you, youíre not an authority figure they want to avoid, but you are also someone they are supposed to listen to and trust.

Being a coach this summer has made me feel more invigorated about keeping my own college dreams alive and strong. Itís more than a personal goal, graduating from college, but a community goal for CBI, to which Iím linked now more than ever. I want to be someone that others look up to.


Jose Martinez

Eagle Academy, Bronx, NY, í10 Hunter College/ CUNY, í14 (Biotechnology)

Being in an all-boys school, one day itís all romantic and everyone is showing so much love, and the next day itís like you canít stand each other. In my opinion, as young men we donít know our emotions very well—it takes longer for us to get civilized, itís a different journey.

So putting college on top of this brew of young male emotion, thatís a special challenge. But the school was small enough that the teachers and the principal knew every student. The whole community tried to push you to go to college, gave you advice very single day. College was the goal.

When CBI invited me to be a mentor coach for the summer, I pretty much knew what I was getting myself into. I like helping people, Iím passionate about it, and whatís better than helping young men like me enroll in college? Itís been life-changing for me, it could be life-changing for them, too. And I had the advantage that Iím a young man like them, Iíve had every thought theyíve had, Iíve been part of that complex web of thoughts and action that can trip you up.

There are two students that stand out for me. As I kinda just suggested, many of the young men at a school like Eagle have a lot of good qualities but they need refining, they need to learn how to cut out some of the rough edges. There was one young man who was a good student, but he could be lazy and forget about things. I needed to tell him how urgent it was. It fit a pattern, young males that donít get that sense of urgency because they think they know everything. They feel theyíre adults now, theyíre men, the world is theirs. You need to bring them down a notch, settle them down. When they are humble, they produce the work they need to do. Thatís what I tried to do with this student. Itís like Platoís ďAllegory of the Cave.Ē

The other young man had something really tragic happen to him, it was a personal blow. And I think my being there for him in those days of summer, when the school was closed down, was beneficial. As the adviser I opened up, and he did as the student. He told me what he needed, I told him how I could help, and together we worked things out as much as we could. It was very special.

The most important part of the training for me was learning how to set limits. You have to know how to set limits. You have a relationship with these students, but you must set the boundaries of your relationship. Iím supposed to be an adviser, someone who counsels these students and helps them enroll into college. This kind of work requires a lot of passion as far as Iím concerned, and passion is good. But sometimes it can be too much. At the same time I was trying to help my students refine their emotions, I was learning how to manage myself and stay professional.

Being a college coach this summer, I saw again and again the value so many students, parentsó especially parentsóand teachers place on college. Like Yariel said, it inspires me to go back to college and do my best. I am a representation of where I come from, I carry their good deeds and their love. The best way I can give back is to make my college education beneficial to others, to get the tools to make the world a better place. If I was able to change some lives this summer, I should be able to change more when I graduate from college. Bring it on!

Photo: Senior convocation, Eagle Academy

Shout Outs



have a story for wkcd?

Want to bring public attention
to your work? WKCD invites
submissions from youth and
educators worldwide.

Write to us


“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

– Deborah Meier, educator