Blog Archives

Why a Coalition Matters

Coalition work is difficult and takes time, so why do it – especially when we have such limited staff capacity and budget? It’s a very good question. As we continue to expand our direct-service work to fill gaps in student supports identified by the ALL IN! Coalition – particularly those gaps during senior summer and the first year of college – we are reminded of one truth: 

  • Despite the countless private-sector programs supporting students in Hartford, the high school graduation, post-secondary enrollment and degree completion rates overall remain frozen.  

So, it can’t be just about more resources; it has to be about resource coordination and better resource targeting. It has to be about the entire system changing how it takes care of students to allow for more and more to choose and stay on a path that works for them. That’s why the Coalition matters, and that’s why we remain committed to playing the role of Backbone to that Coalition.  

Identifying gaps and launching innovative new programs is one play. Another play is being a force for coordination and alignment, collaborative funding, practice improvement, resource sharing, data tracking, cross-sector collaboration and smarter targeting of resources for results. That’s the role of the Coalition, and we will continue to find ways to make systems change this coming school year – as we have in the past, where we have brought organizations together to tackle summer melt, campus retention and work-based learning. Take a look below to see what’s on the horizon and what you can do to plug in if you haven’t already. 

Private-Sector Leaders Plugging In

In Vol. 1, Issue 1 of the ALL IN! Coalition Update, we spotlighted corporate volunteer Kevin Timbro, whose commitment to Hartford youth is almost unmatched. The fact is, however, we aren’t looking for that level of contribution from every private-sector leader; we’re just looking for folks to plug in where they can. 

  • For corporate leaders, we just ask that you reach out to us to learn more about the local talent pipeline and consider taking on a high school or college-level intern. 
  • For nonprofit leaders, we ask you to engage in either the College Supports Network of practitioners or the Work-Based Learning Network to share what you’re doing to help prepare youth for post-secondary education and career, and consider sharing data on who you are serving. 
  • For philanthropic leaders, we ask that you consider donating a small amount to the Coalition and joining the Funder Advisory Committee, to share your strategies for making impact, and also to ask your grantees to engage in one of the Coalition’s two practitioner networks. 
  • For higher education leaders, we ask that you reach out to learn more and consider partnering with us on summer melt and campus retention efforts for the Hartford graduates now on your campuses. 

There are already so many oars in the water. We just want to help everyone row in the same direction. Reach out to us [email protected]  

Under the Hood: What Supporting HPS Graduates as Campus Freshmen Looks Like

Penina, a first-generation college student, faced several challenges when starting at Central Connecticut State University in the fall of 2019. Commuting from Hartford to New Britain by bus and helping her parents care for her younger siblings, she found it difficult to attend professors’ office hours. She struggled with consistent time management and motivation.  

Penina told her mentor, Grecia Zaldiva, she wanted to remain focused and motivated because she knew graduating from college would open many doors. However, there was no one at home who could teach her about how college life works or how challenging a transition it is to go from high school to college. 

Not knowing  where to go for help  or apply for work study jobs on campus, Grecia gave her all the resources that CCSU provides, as well telling her where they are located.  

“I also always encouraged her to participate and ask for help in her classes,” Grecia says.  

At first, as a commuter, Penina found it challenging to make friends. After Grecia sat with her and showed her the website page that lists all the university clubs, Penina joined the Africana Club, where she made good friends and felt part of the campus community. (Research shows students who feel engaged are more apt to persist in college and graduate.)

Grecia guided her and encouraged her to take advantage of all the opportunities she could during college. Knowing Penina wanted to live on campus and focus on school without  taking out loans, her mentor told her that if she became an RA as an upperclassman, she’d receive free room and board, but she will need experience. 

Grecia helped Penina look for volunteer opportunities, which led to her applying for a volunteer role as an Orientation Leader.  Grecia conducted a mock interview with Penina to help prepare her, as she’d never been interviewed before. When Penina didn’t get the position, her mentor told her not to be discouraged and helped her find a lower-level volunteer position that would be the first step toward reaching her ultimate goal of landing  an RA job.  

As their relationship developed, Penina became more confident and eager to take advantage of all the opportunities college offers. Grecia sat with her and showed her how to organize and color-code her agenda in order to improve her time-management skills, and Penina learned to organize her time well.

While the funding for ALL IN!’s Campus Retention program last year only allowed for one semester of mentoring, Grecia continued mentoring Penina through her second semester as a volunteer. She helped her select her courses, recommending professors. When her parents were unable to work because of the coronavirus, her mentor gave Penina the name and email of someone in the Financial Aid Office and told her to share her changed family finances . The university increased her need-based grant amount as a result, allowing her to continue her education.   The goal this fall is to expand the number of mentors who support Hartford Public School graduates as they begin college. The mentoring program seeks to increase the rate of degree completion for Hartford graduates, which, research shows is the most effective  way to end the cycle of poverty that traps so many students we seek to serve. 

Private-Sector Leaders Plugging In: Kevin Timbro

Sometimes, we look at the problems around us and feel powerless to do anything about them. It’s at that time we should get into action, because we all have something to give. This month’s profile of a local private-sector volunteer is all about action and, just like you and me, he cares deeply about his community, especially historically marginalized people.   

Kevin Timbro began volunteering with Hartford children within a few years of graduating from college, and now, with a wife and three children under age 5, he remains passionate about lending his skills to help Hartford Public Schools students achieve. He’s just not sure what that will look like this fall, as it’s still unknown whether coronavirus will prevent students from returning to school. Either way, he knows they need support.   

“I do believe there is a lot of opportunity to help students out through a virtual or digital realm,” he says. “Distance learning is going to be the new norm. I don’t think the education system knows what it’s going to look like – you can’t socially distance kids,” he says. “It’s not something that is doable.” 

His employer, UnitedHealthcare, has a partnership with High School Inc. and is open to its employees volunteering during the work day, he says. Long before coronavirus, Timbro reached out to his company’s coordinator to express his interest in volunteering, and soon he found himself serving on the advisory board for High School Inc. and enjoyed the experience. 

When staff at Achieve Hartford approached him to participate in one of the ALL IN! Coalition action teams, he welcomed the chance to work alongside nonprofit leaders to support students. 

“I loved the idea of the private sector coming into the school on a regular basis and working with the teachers,” says Timbro. “I didn’t want to come in and make a statement like, ‘I know what’s needed.’ I wanted to say, ‘This is your school. How can I assist in this advisory program and partner with you?’ The teachers were super receptive to that.” 

As co-chair of the ALL IN! Coalition’s High School Advisory action team, he took on the task of scheduling and leading meetings and taking notes. He was the only corporate member of the action team, and he found that, whether they represented a nonprofit organization or education, “everybody was on the same page in regard to the need.”  

People were so committed in their common purpose that they worked well together. “You could actually get stuff done,” he says. 

He doesn’t think online-only learning will work for many HPS students, he says. “Everything needs to be working toward getting students back in the building.” He earned his master’s degree entirely through online classes, but it took extreme discipline to carve out time for attending class, studying for tests and writing papers – discipline he didn’t have when he was a teenager, he says.  

Before coronavirus, when students were physically in school, he witnessed the impact face-to-face meetings can have. For example, a private college financial aid officer spoke to the freshmen, sophomores and juniors about financial aid and told them that if their grades are high enough, they could qualify for need-based scholarships that would cover most of their tuition.  

“This was one of the most powerful sessions we organized for students. The students were unaware of this concept,” Timbro says. “This helped drive home the point to underclassmen the importance of doing their best from the start of high school.”  

Despite the fact that he’s a 31-year-old white guy from Middletown, Timbro says, “the students have been very receptive to things I’ve shared.” 

While serving on the High School Advisory action team inside Weaver High School, the team recruited leaders from Morgan Stanley, which has an alumnae mentorship program. Several Hartford Public Schools alums – college students and college graduates in the workforce – served as mentors who came in during students’ advisory period and helped with college applications and answering questions.  

In what seems like almost constant change in Hartford, the action team faced challenges. “I do think there can be a tighter collaboration between the private sector, public sector and the board of education,” he says. 

But that’s not discouraging Timbro from serving on another ALL IN! Coalition action team in the future. He knows his skills as an executive can be helpful to sourcing and organizing programming for students. The High School Advisory action team was a good start and helped some students, but this work is going to take time, effort, many hands and many years.  

“As long as we’re making progress,” he says, “then it’s beneficial.”  

He’s hoping there will be a greater call on the private sector for tutoring support, college application guidance and internships, even during these social distancing restrictions. “I think this pandemic has set us back 12 to 18 months. We don’t know what we’re going to do next,” he says. “All of the obstacles, hurdles that were in place prior to Covid-19 have to be put to the side, and we have to work through this pandemic fully before we start to address those hurdles.” 

For example, the racial injustices Hartford students face can’t be ignored and should be addressed in a public forum and in the private sector, Timbro says. “Racism isn’t new. We’re just seeing it being caught on camera.” 

The ALL IN! Coalition’s work focuses on addressing institutional, systemic discrimination by providing Hartford students with at least some of the scaffolding in place for white students.   “The main priority here is to start having the conversation, and if nobody has a conversation, no change is going to happen,” he says. “What does that look like? I can’t give you an answer.” But that’s not going to stop Timbro  from finding ways to volunteer and support students he knows have been marginalized, with whatever time he can spare.  

Results Charted: College Enrollment, Summer Melt and the ALL IN! Summer Transition Action Team

We finally received results for Year 3 college enrollment district-wide, and unfortunately, the percentage of HPS graduates starting college the fall immediately after graduation remained unchanged at 56%. The following data tables give a picture of the recently updated data from the National Student Clearinghouse: 

% of Hartford students enrolled FALL after graduation

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
55% 57% 62% 62% 56% 56%

% of Hartford students enrolled YEAR after graduation

59% 61% 66% 66% 60% ?%

% of freshman to sophomore persistence

74% 79% 79% 80% * *
*Persistence for a given cohort not available until the second academic year of study has concluded 

% of students completing any degree within 6 years

24% 27% 24% 22% 24%* 25%
*Revised upward from 23% in most recent NSC report 

As a result of the lackluster change in enrollment percentage, we want to expand the Summer Melt program to ensure our summer intervention makes a measurable difference. While last year’s Summer Transition action team had a cohort of almost 200 students across five campuses, this year’s cohort is 280 students across just Capital and Manchester Community Colleges. Most of HPS students attend those colleges, so we feel focusing on these students with full support of the community college leadership will make the biggest impact.

Achieve Hartford  hired three college students at Capital Community College and two at Manchester to be our summer outreach specialists, and they now have several  weeks under their belts. Our partners at the two community colleges were fantastic in helping identify strong student applicants and in co-facilitating the training for them. Each of the five summer outreach specialists has a caseload of 50-60 students to call/email/text all summer, and with the expected response rate, the real ratio is more like 1:40 max.  

While some students will need a lot of support to finish the enrollment process, others will not. Regardless, the staff at the colleges stands ready to take referrals and make sure every student who  asks for support gets it – especially as it relates to successfully completing the FAFSA and course registration. We will keep you abreast of progress over the summer. 

The People Who Do the Work: The Students We Invest In to Get Us Results

When Grecia Zaldivar moved to Hartford from Lima, Peru her freshman year of high school, nearly all her teachers were native Spanish speakers and taught classes in Spanish, regardless of subject matter. Bulkeley High School teachers gave non-native English speakers simplified assignments, such as drawing a picture about what a book meant, rather than writing a paper, Grecia says. 

“I saw that didn’t make us learn. That was easy homework. I didn’t like being in those classes,” she says, because it made it difficult for her to learn and improve her new language. “I couldn’t practice my English.” 

Most of her classmates knew little English. By her junior year, she asked her guidance counselor to place her in classes where teachers only spoke English. Her advisor warned her that classes would be difficult. 

“I said, ‘Yes, I know. I want to learn English. I need to learn English,’ ” she says. She knew she could do the work as long as she could learn English. She tutored math her junior and senior years of high school to students who were non-native English speakers.  

“Some teachers, they thought because we only speak Spanish, we’re not capable of doing harder work,” says Grecia, a senior at Central Connecticut State University and a peer mentor to freshmen with last fall’s ALL IN! Coalition Campus Retention program.  

By her senior year of high school, she took AP classes in order to be with students whose first language was English so she could really practice and improve her English. Thanks to her high school English teacher who told her about how to apply for scholarships and financial aid through FAFSA, Grecia, a Hartford Promise Scholar, paid for her first year at Central with scholarships and need-based financial aid. 

Still learning English, her first year at Central was really hard, she says.  Despite using Google translate, she didn’t always understand the assignment, she says. “I was always in the learning center and going to my professors’ office hours.” Her persistence paid off. She made the Dean’s List all her semesters and the President’s List after earning all A’s her sophomore year and on.  

She’s majoring in psychology with minors in business and theater. She had enough credits to graduate this spring, but chose to continue for another semester in order to complete the theater minor she started in her senior year.  

“I loved my acting classes and movement classes. Those classes, they used to make my day,” she says. They helped her open up and be less shy, she says. And, after researching potential careers that combine her interests, she says, she learned she could take her love of psychology and acting to become a drama therapist, but she would need at least a theater minor to get into a graduate program with that focus.  

Grecia has drawn on her own challenges and experiences to help others in her role as a Resident Advisor on campus at Central and as a peer mentor within last fall’s Campus Retention program.  When mentoring one of the freshmen last fall, she advised a mentee who struggled with shyness to take an acting class. Her mentee said it helped with her nervousness and with public speaking.

Grecia  has used her life experience to  help others, and while she became a mentor out of a desire to serve, she’s learned about herself as well.  “I felt like, maybe I’m making an impact on them,” she says. “I’d like to do this as my career, maybe be a psychologist at a high school or college.” 

Indeed, it seems that the biggest asset we have in our city just may be the students themselves. We plan to invest in them more. 

How Lincoln Financial Actuaries are Supporting Student Achievement in Hartford

What if there was a way to analyze what prevents students from persisting to high school graduation and to a successful college experience?  And what if educators could put interventions in place to give students timely, targeted support to increase the likelihood that they’ll complete college?

A new collaborative effort between Hartford Public Schools (HPS), and the ALL IN! coalition is designed to do just that with the help of Lincoln Financial Group.

Through the initiative, actuaries from Lincoln will analyze student data from two sources: the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) and HPS data spanning from 2009-2016. U.S. colleges and universities submit data to NSC about students who enroll, attend and graduate. (Note: The data provided to Lincoln was carefully reviewed by Hartford Public Schools to remove any information that could lead to identifying a particular student.)

Coalition members already know that some students accepted to college don’t even start and that others who start don’t graduate. The ALL IN! coalition launched a program last summer to prevent ‘summer melt’ – when students who plan to attend a college don’t start in the fall because they can’t afford a fee, miss a deadline or face some other obstacle.

“Every school district in Connecticut sends their graduating class data to the NSC and the clearinghouse issues reports back to the district. The reports detail, in aggregate, how many students are attending each of the potential higher education options – two- or four-year, part-time or full-time, private or public, in-state or out-of-state – and whether they entered college within 24 months of high school graduation,” says Martin Estey, executive director of the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education. “The problem is that nobody has analyzed these reports to spot trends and patterns that might serve as clues to which path is most likely to end in success for Hartford schools’ graduates.”

In 2012, Estey suggested that those working together for students’ success apply some high-level data analytics expertise to the clearinghouse spreadsheets, add some data points that aren’t included in the reports, and analyze the numbers to see what they forecast.

“Connecticut has the highest concentration of actuaries in the country – many right here in Hartford,” said Estey.  These are professionals who analyze risks and the likelihood of future events.  Why can’t we apply some of that type of analysis and talent towards understanding student behaviors when they leave high school?” he says. “When approached with this project, Lincoln’s actuaries spoke up right away.  They were willing to donate extremely valuable expertise to this effort.”

The Work Begins

Hartford Public Schools has transferred data to Lincoln Financial and it’s expected to take to school year end for a team of four actuaries to analyze the data and create a predictive model.  Once a predictive model is completed, the Lincoln actuaries will meet with the HPS subject matter experts to help them understand the data for their future use.

“Lincoln Financial is committed to helping children reach their greatest potential by providing support for educational programs that impact academic achievement.” said Marlene Ferreira, regional director- Community and Foundation Relations, Lincoln Financial Foundation.  “We are very excited to be providing skilled volunteers for this initiative to unleash the power of predictive analytics to identify the factors of academic and post-graduation success.

Paul Diego Holzer, executive director of Achieve Hartford! added, “This kind of partnership work is not common – it’s ground breaking. Hartford is one of only a handful of cities looking at data the way we plan to look at in the coming months.”

Kathleen England, former chief academic officer, Hartford Public Schools, commented, “The predictive model will help us point to which aspects are really impacting our students in whether they attain college enrollment.  This data has the potential to help the district better match students with universities, colleges or advanced certification programs that are the best fit for them.  I think it’s a really good example of different stakeholders being able to collaborate and come out with something we feel will be really powerful for our students and families.”

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.

Developing the Talent of the Future: Can a Work-Based Learning Network be the Answer?

It’s a pressing conversation growing in urgency in Hartford and across Connecticut, as more employers seek ways to create the robust talent pipeline needed to fill vacant positions.

One promising talent development strategy involves educators, community-based organizations, and employers collaborating to create better and more opportunities for high school students to engage in work-based learning — an integration of classroom training with real-world work experiences. Developing quality activities that link work and learning helps ensure students have the skills and key training they need to compete in post-secondary education and the workforce.

While pockets of work-based learning opportunities exist for Hartford students, the experiences for both students and employers are sometimes disparate, disconnected, and disappointing for both.

Some employers have expressed concern about students who lack the necessary work readiness skills and some students note the employer’s lack of capacity to create meaningful job tasks that build career skills. Additionally, students don’t always see the connections from classroom to work.

A Network Can Help

To build city-wide collective action around work-based learning for students, the ALL IN! Coalition and Capital Workforce Partners convened the Work-Based Learning Network first with those community-based providers in charge of placing and supporting students in internships. The first members to join include:

  • Blue Hills Civic Association
  • Center for Latino Progress
  • Jr. Apprentice
  • OPP
  • City of Hartford
  • CBIA
  • CRT
  • Hartford Public Schools

Members got to work discussing a set of uniform competencies that all could agree will help ensure foundational skills are built across all work-based learning activities.  Now, nearing completion is the toolkit for providers, schools and employers that lays out those competencies and how to assess them, to be piloted this summer through the Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program (SYELP).

Developing the talent of the future and closing equity gaps for Hartford students will depend on strong work-based learning programming that can help students not only identify a career path but be ready to pursue it through post-secondary education and training. Ultimately, it’s how we will achieve a thriving regional economy and better communities for all.

We look forward to sharing more about this work as it develops and encourage our partners and colleagues to join us.

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