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Getting NJ Students to See Themselves as 'College Material'

Monday, April 15, 2013

WNYC

The New Jersey Department of Education now tracks college enrollment numbers in its new School Performance Reports, as part of its effort to grade schools on how well they prepare students for college.

Across the state, 62 percent of recent high school graduates were still enrolled in a two- or four-year-college 16 months after graduating from a New Jersey high school.

Schools in affluent areas have college enrollment rates closer to 90 percent. And in some of the state's lowest income districts they’re as low as 20 percent. Some schools are trying to increase their college-attendance rates by first getting students to see themselves as "college material."

For C and D students like Cesar Alvarado, who attends Orange High School, it can be difficult to see college as an option.

Alvarado is only a sophomore but he thinks it's too late to try to do better in school, so he has another plan. 

“I'm going to own my own business, like a restaurant,” he said. “My aunt bought a restaurant and it's making a lot of money right now and she didn't go to college.”

There aren’t many other job opportunities he and his classmates see in their neighborhood.

“You can be a teacher, work at the police department and I guess that's about it,” said student Lucky Guy Louis Charles. “Oh and there's a mechanic shop. If you’re good with cars you can probably go there.”

A lack of opportunity isn’t the only issue that can keep low-income students from investing in their future, says Andrew Blanco, a clinical social worker at the school.

“[There’s] gang involvement, drug use, a lot of single parent homes with the mothers raising the children,” he said. “A lot of violence involving guns on the streets; therefore they have a lot of bereavement that can hold them back academically.”

Many drop out of high school to work with the family.

“And that’s a tough one because the family actually thinks that what they’re doing is the right thing,” he says.

The ‘College-Type’

Orange High school is trying to counteract some of these obstacles with two programs that promote college attendance. Jada Gore runs The Space – a school-based program that tries to get low-income students to see that they are the college type. 

“Students do have strengths and they have struggles,” Gore said. “Our main goal here, among others, is to focus on the strengths that the students possess and to get them to see that [they] have an abundance of value.”

The school has partnered with non-profits like New Jersey SEEDS and Family Connections. They offer college-prep classes, help with the college application process and take students on campus tours so they can see a world that offers more possibility.  

More than 60 percent of the recent graduates enrolled in some post secondary education, which is better than comparable low-income districts.

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Comments [3]

Dan OHS journalism teacher

I'm surprised this article was not retracted since it's based in falsehood.

My students wrote over a dozen letters to WNYC about how Lucky Guy Charles is not and was not an OHS student. Poor choice for person to get quotes from and feature in the photo. He goes to West Orange HS.

Oct. 22 2013 10:06 PM
Ronni Denes from New Jersey SEEDS, Newark, NJ

It's not surprising that the college-going rate for Orange High School exceeds that of many comparable low-income districts. New Jersey SEEDS has been working with OHS and the school district for more than five years now in a dedicated partnership to increase students' college aspirations, readiness, applications and matriculation, and ultimately, graduation. From the beginning, SEEDS' College Preparatory Program (CPP) has had tremendous support, starting with the Superintendent's Office and including principals, faculty and guidance counselors, all sharing a common goal. Orange personnel traveled to Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, to watch their students grapple with Camus and advanced algebra in CPP's residential summer session. Orange High School has made facilities - including computer labs - available to us on Saturdays for students willing to work a sixth day every week for the promise of a college education. School reform is an issue that is challenging the entire nation. Orange High School has made significant strides in changing its culture of college aspiration by embracing and supporting a collaboration that works. We are honored to partner with them.

Apr. 25 2013 03:29 PM
David from Fairfield CT

This community approach, where the schools, parents, government and none profit organizations cordinate their effort, is the only solution to this enduring problem. The problem is complex and needs a multifaceted approach.

Apr. 15 2013 07:37 AM

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