Category: Blog

HSIP Program Goes Deep with Seniors During Their Time of Need

Relationships Key to Success

The Hartford Student Internship Program for the Class of 2021 began with a very different goal than the program’s previous seven years. Because of the pandemic, the ALL IN! Coalition directed resources away from students already on track for post-secondary education to those students without a plan. The program’s goal was to help Hartford Public Schools (HPS) seniors graduate with a post-secondary plan and placement, but as the pandemic persisted, it became so much more. 

Yes, students without a post-secondary plan were given skills and interest assessments and offered workshops to prepare them for the world after high school.  Staff from community organizations such as Capital Workforce Partners (CWP,) Blue Hills Civic Association (BHCA) and Center for Latino Progress (CLP) addressed barriers to planning for college, career, trade school or the military. But the staff also asked students what they needed and connected them to those resources, including food, mental health support and other assistance, says Sashauna Stewart, youth employment coordinator with CWP. By addressing obstacles first, the community organizations’ staff built trust with students, she says. 

HPS schools were closed to in-person learning from the start of the 2020-21 school year until April, and programs to replace the free breakfasts and lunches were not reaching all students who needed the food. (Nearly 75% of HPS students qualify for free- and reduced-price meals.) The teens were trying to learn from home while coping with grief and loss, helping their younger siblings with their learning and facing their family’s financial and health challenges. It wasn’t part of the original plan, but community organizations’ staff saw the need, partnered with food pantries and delivered food along with the workshop information, Stewart says.

“Mental health for our students was a priority. We made sure that was addressed in some of the sessions,” she says.  Staff worked with The Village for Families & Children to get students mental health check-ins, she says. “I think that played a huge part in our program being successful.”  

The partners from BHCA, CLP, CWP, HPS and Achieve Hartford set a goal of launching the program in January and reaching 300 students from the priority high schools – Bulkeley, Hartford and Weaver. COVID-19 presented roadblocks, so the program didn’t launch until late February. Student interest trickled in, so the team made adjustments, opening the program up to all HPS students in May, Stewart says.  The financial incentives offered for enrolling and attending workshops attracted some students, while others signed up after someone with whom they had a relationship from a community-based organization or their school referred them to it.  

BHCA and CLP became more resourceful and creative. Once schools opened, only a small fraction of students returned to in-person learning, and all but students and staff were barred from schools, says Kim Flint, programs manager at CLP. They were trying to engage some of the same students with chronic absenteeism who couldn’t be reached by school system staff, she says.  So, community workers set up activity tables outside the schools before and after the school day to recruit seniors to the program, Stewart says. They hosted weekend block parties and attended schools’ field days and community days. When texting, emailing and calling didn’t net results, they went door-to-door.   

Every senior has a Senior Seminar teacher, so staff met with these teachers to coordinate video conferences during the Senior Seminar class period, all designed to recruit seniors into the program.  “For all the barriers that were in place, I think it went really well,” says Stewart.

An external agency is evaluating the data collected from the pilot year to assess aspects of the program, such as how students participated in workshops and in which career pathways students were ultimately placed, says Paul Diego Holzer, executive director of Achieve Hartford. The Coalition plans to look at results and redesign the program for launch this fall and engage students earlier in their senior year. The Delta-variant-caused COVID uptick could force hybrid or remote learning this year, so the team is planning for all scenarios.  

“The rising seniors just experienced two school years disrupted by the pandemic, and it’s not over,” he says. “We expect to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to help the students who need it most.” 

While the Coalition’s Funder Advisory Committee members provided seed funding for the pilot year, this year, CWP and Achieve Hartford are seeking financial support from new funders.  

“There’s so much to build on,” Holzer says. “Strong relationships have been developed between the program staff, school staff and among the partners within the ALL IN! Coalition.” 

Nonprofits Support Hartford Grads Throughout Crucial Summer

With so many relationships built with seniors in the spring, there was no way program providers were going to let the pandemic summer ruin seniors’ plans for college and careers. Luckily, Hartford has a number of diverse programs that serve recent Hartford Public Schools (HPS) grads across the spectrum of need.

Hartford Promise had 146 HPS grads to help steward into college, while smaller programs like the Hartford Public Library and Urban League had 10-20 students. Fortunately, Summer Youth Employment (SYELP) funding was at a level that could provide jobs for recent grads, and a good number of seniors who participated in HSIP in the spring transitioned to SYELP, along with some seniors who applied on their own. As the largest college-prep program in the region, Career Beginnings stewarded more than 125 HPS seniors to college. Meanwhile, Achieve Hartford assigned peer mentors to all 222 HPS grads accepted at Manchester and Capital Community Colleges. 

The table below lists the number of HPS grads served by just six of the many programs providing post-secondary transition support this summer, with overlap among the programs for reasons related to slightly different programming or collaborative case-management. Programs have been meeting every Friday all summer to share data and discuss challenges students are facing in the transition from high school student to young adult. 

As a group of practitioners, the worry now turns to fall success amid intense hesitancy among many students to rejoin classes in person and/or get the vaccine. Plans are in the works to address this difficult time for the Class of 2021 in a way that is collective and strategic. More to come on this next month.

Class of 2021 Update

ALL IN! Partnerships Deepen

The Hartford Student Internship Program (HSIP+) Class of 2021 program has built new levels of collaboration and relationship building among high school counselors and staff from Hartford nonprofits. Designed to connect Hartford Public Schools seniors who have no post-secondary plan to a career pathway program before they graduate, the original goal to reach 300 students has proven challenging.

Community-based organizations’ staff has reached out to students by phone, email, text and home visits to help set them on the path to a productive summer and career prospects. So far, 73 seniors have joined the program, and community partners are working hard to reach more. (The revised goal is 100-150 students enrolled.)

With financial support from corporate and philanthropic sponsors, we are accomplishing what the ALL IN! Coalition for College and Career Readiness set out to do: turn siloed programs and players into a tight net that can catch students before they fall through any cracks and help them advance through the talent pipeline. While people bemoan Hartford’s “resource problem,” this project has addressed Hartford’s “coordination problem” and brought stakeholders together to patch a hole in the safety net.

Progress Thus Far
• 73 active participants in the program.
28 additional applicants in the system who are being vetted.

The ALL IN! Coalition for College and Career Readiness, with financial support from corporate and philanthropic sponsors, has been working with a team of people to identify HPS seniors without post-secondary plans and get them into the HSIP+ Class of 2021 effort. The program offers students who sign up a chance to earn money and workplace skills. Once students take a couple of virtual workshops, for which they’re paid, they’re eligible to apply for paid internships and summer jobs. The Coalition set out with a goal of reaching 300 students but that proved too ambitious. The project is being implemented by partner organizations – Capital Workforce Partners, BHCA and CLP.

This pandemic has drawn attention to the fact that students’ relationships with staff at school and adults outside of school are not strong enough. Too many students feel disconnected from their schools. We’d like to use this experience with our partners to ensure students have deep connections with caring adults and with programs that can help them advance, despite the challenges they face.

While COVID-19 has shown a spotlight on the holes in the net, we can take this opportunity to patch and reinforce the net long after the pandemic urgency fades. We’re grateful to our financial sponsors: Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the City of Hartford, The Travelers Foundation, The Hartford, Social Venture Partners, Liberty Bank and Lincoln Financial.

Community Workers Go Door-to-Door to Reach HPS Seniors

Despite visiting addresses where the students no longer lived, being told they had the wrong apartment when they were right and encountering people unwilling to open their doors, two Blue Hills Civic Association (BHCA) staff members going door-to-door to reach Hartford Public Schools (HPS) seniors approached each new prospect with enthusiasm.

BHCA and the Center for Latino Progress (CLP) have been working to reach HPS seniors who lack a post-secondary plan for work, college or the military after graduation. Since some students have opted to learn from home as the pandemic continues, HPS guidance counselors have faced more challenges than ever to connect with some disengaged students. At Weaver High School, two guidance counselors serve 600 students; and at Hartford Public High School, four guidance counselors serve 900 students, said Reneesha Baugh, community organizer, BHCA. “It’s an uphill battle for us all,” she said.

This is where the BHCA’s Baugh and Andriana Milner, youth development specialist, come in. Armed with a list of names, addresses, phone numbers, goodie bags with candy and information and a determination to help students, they and other staff members go out in teams several afternoons a week. They start by knocking on doors or ringing doorbells. If they get no answer, Milner calls the student’s number while standing outside their home.

“Hi, I’m Andriana with the Blue Hills Civic Association. We have an opportunity for you to earn some money through an internship and a summer job,” she says to the answering machine or person on the line. If they don’t reach anyone, they may leave a goodie bag with information about the program, a registration form and a zippered bag containing candy and Baugh’s business card.

For more than two hours on a Friday afternoon, they encountered no answer at most doors, an outdated address at one house and someone who said they had the wrong apartment but who answered the phone and confirmed they had the right address. (The young man wouldn’t come to the door, but the women left the goodie bag in front of his mailbox.) Some addresses and phone numbers don’t exist at all, which wastes valuable time. Despite traveling in pairs, outreach workers pay attention to their surroundings and avoid entering buildings that feel unsafe. Even with all the roadblocks the outreach workers face to connecting with students, they’re undeterred.

“At least they’ll get all the information,” said Milner, who was sporting a “Girls Support Girls” t-shirt this day.

An undocumented student who didn’t come to the door but answered Milner’s call said she was interested, and wondered if she was eligible to participate without a green card. (She was.) Milner told her she’d text her and email her the information about the program. That girl sounded interested.

As they left that South End house adorned with Mickey Mouse decorations, Milner crowed, “Oh my god, YES. That’s one!”

After several stops with no face-to-face meetings, they talked about what kept them going in the face of so many apparent dead ends. “It’s an important opportunity for them, even if they don’t realize it,” Milner said. They’re job has transitioned from information providers to saleswomen. On a recent afternoon, BHCA turned three students who initially said ‘no’ into students who said ‘yes.’

“I had adults in my life who had to push me,” Baugh said. “Hopefully, they just need this little push” to
learn some skills.

After driving from one apartment and house to another, Milner called and reached the mother of a boy who was the last name on the day’s list. Her son was home, she said, and encouraged Milner to try the apartment door. The boy didn’t answer the buzzer, but as Milner and Baugh stood outside the apartment building discussing whether to leave a goodie bag on the front porch, a resident left and they slipped into the apartment building through the open door. After walking up three flights of stairs, they rang the bell and a boy opened the door part way. He looked cautious, until Milner introduced herself and Baugh quickly.

When she told the senior he could get a job and earn up to $1,500, along with a $50 gift card just for signing up, he revealed a small smile. Along with the bag containing the sign-up information, Milner gave him a $10 gift card for answering the door. When his face lit up with an even bigger smile, she handed him a gift card for his mother, since she had been helpful when Milner called.

Outside the apartment, Milner did a brief happy dance, saying, “Got one!” She’d follow up with a phone
call on Monday, she said.

This was a typical day, and they don’t get discouraged, they said, because they know how hard a year it has been for the Class of 2021; if they reach one student, it’s worth it. “Some are so disinterested in school” that the offer to earn money makes a difference, Baugh said. “We’re passionate about making sure these seniors have this opportunity so they don’t become another statistic. Their success is our success.”

Programs Expand to Serve More College Students

For the first time in its 13-year history, Achieve Hartford will serve students from five Greater Hartford communities in addition to Hartford. Its two peer mentoring programs designed to help graduating high school seniors start and persist in community college have shown promising results, so Achieve Hartford and its partners at Capital and Manchester Community Colleges decided to expand the programs to help more students.

“As a first-generation student, I wish I had had someone helping me navigate this stuff,” says Sara M. Vincent, Ed.D., director, Strategic Enrollment Management, Manchester Community College. “My mom had no clue how to help me.”

The students are more likely to ask a peer a question than they are to ask a college staff member, she adds. “The personal connection that the mentors provide is crucial.”

Achieve Hartford, as part of its ALL IN! Coalition for College and Career Readiness action teams’ work, started its Summer Transition and Campus Persistence programs as pilot programs a few years ago. Since then, they’ve been modified and expanded to help every HPS grad heading to CCC and MCC.

“While we now run these programs in coordination with our community college partners, I’m thrilled the systemic-change work of two ALL IN! Coalition action teams proved successful and are being brought to scale,” says Paul Diego Holzer, executive director, Achieve Hartford.

The majority of first-generation Hartford students attend CCC and MCC, so Achieve Hartford partnered with those two schools to serve their students from Hartford. College staff recommend students who work on campus as potential peer mentors, so the program drew from a pool of students who know their way around campus structure and have a proven track record.

“We’re doing something that seems to be working and we kind of hit our ceiling for Hartford for this programming,” says Chris Marcelli, director of programs, Achieve Hartford. Staff from the community colleges and Achieve Hartford discussed ways to expand and mutually decided to start serving students from East Hartford, Bloomfield, Windsor, Manchester and Vernon. A large percentage of students from those towns attend CCC and MCC, Vincent says. In addition, adds Marcelli, students from these districts could use the added support: the state Department of Education lists these school districts as Alliance Districts, placing them among the state’s lower-performing districts.

National research shows first-generation, low-income students were nearly four times more likely (26% versus 7%) to leave higher education after the first year than non-first-generation students. Nationally, only 24% of first-generation students earn an associate degree or certificate within six years.

“We are trying to increase the retention rate,” Marcelli says. A Stanford University researcher found students who took part in mentoring and coaching services were 10-15% more likely to advance to another year of college.

In the fall of 2020, peer mentors reached out to 128 first-semester students at MCC or CCC from Hartford. In a normal year, when there isn’t a pandemic, these colleges would typically retain about 65%, or 83 students. Out of the 128 we attempted to mentor, 70%, or 90 students, persisted from the fall to spring semester, Marcelli says.

“I’m happy about that. You always want to be able to do the most good with the resources you have,” he says. “Being able to serve students from other towns to expand those resources is really good news for us.”

Plans call for serving 750 students from six communities through the summer and, in the fall, about 360 to 400 students, depending upon how many peer mentors Marcelli is able to hire.

Vincent says she and her colleagues are grateful for the partnership.

“My main focus is to get students enrolled,” she says. “Our admissions office is very, very small. I only have two full-time admissions staff [and 5,000 students.] We wouldn’t be able to do this level of support without Achieve Hartford.”

Philanthropy, Nonprofits & HPS Unite to Help Class of 2021 Prepare for Future

This year, more than any other, is especially tough for those Hartford Public Schools’ seniors without plans for college or military service after graduating. School guidance counselors had to work harder to reach students learning remotely, and even in the best years, the student-to-staff ratio stretches guidance counselors thin. What support is there for seniors who aren’t pursuing the traditional college route?

In February, the ALL IN! Coalition partners, with financial support from its Funder Advisory Committee, launched the Hartford Student Internship Program (HSIP) & Class of 2021 program with the goal of reaching up to 300 of those seniors to place them in a post-secondary program. Capital Workforce Partners (CWP,) which has historically led the HSIP, took the lead and received carry-over financial support from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the City of Hartford. Other funders stepped in to help launch the program, including The Travelers Foundation, The Hartford, Social Venture Partners, Liberty Bank and Lincoln Financial.

With CWP coordinating the effort, staff from Blue Hills Civic Association and Center for Latino Progress have knocked on doors and reached out to seniors to enroll them in the program; it offers up to 13 content modules, where students receive $35 stipends for each module attended, as well as 60-hour internships that pay students $12 an hour. Modules offer a mix of career competency training, employment management training and post-secondary program exposure and placement.

Many students have to work to help support their families, so to encourage students to participate and stay engaged throughout the final marking period of their senior year, the program prioritized financial incentives for students and their families.

In total, students in the program will receive:

  • $35 per content module completed at their own pace done in live workshops, recorded webinars, small-group meetings or 1:1 sessions with community-based organization staff, for up to $505 in earnings.
  • Eligibility for internships in the spring, which pay $12/hour for up to 60 hours of work, up to $720 in earnings.
  • Eligibility for early application for Summer Youth Employment, up to $1,500 in earnings.
  • Placement in other paid career pathway programs after high school such as apprenticeship, trade skills, industry certificate and job-training programs.
  • Career Readiness Training on key topics such as time- and self-management, professional communications, resume writing, interviewing and more.

By graduation, the participating students will have gained skills, experiences and connections to prepare them for work, on-the-job training and the possibilities beyond low-wage, low-growth jobs. This effort would not have been possible without the support of the program’s funders and partners.

Data Show Gains in Mentees Starting, Persisting in College

The Hartford Public Schools students served by peer mentors in our summer transition and college retention programs showed promising results, despite starting college during a pandemic. In the spring of 2020, we targeted 308 prospective college students from Hartford, up 67% from 185 targeted in 2019. Our peer mentors contact all the HPS students who have applied to either Capital or Manchester Community Colleges, (CCC) and (MCC,) and offer to help them throughout the summer with the college matriculation process.

With our college persistence program, peer mentors work with students throughout the first semester to help them find campus resources such as academic support or financial aid; they answer questions, provide support; and remind them of deadlines for class registration. This spring, the number of first-year CCC and MCC students who persisted into a second semester reached 71%, or 92 students out of 129 enrolled, compared to the estimated average of 68% in recent years at CCC and MCC.

The charts below give further data.

First-Year MCC Student Gets By With a Little Help from Her Mentor

Saraya Torres has wanted to go to college since she was a little kid. When starting at Manchester Community College during a pandemic meant classes would be online, she didn’t love the idea but decided to go for it anyway. She planned to take four classes while working 32 hours a week at two part-time jobs.

She’s used to being self-sufficient – she is independent from her parents and lives on her own in an apartment – but when a fellow MCC student contacted her toward the end of her senior year of high school to offer to help her through the summer with the college transition process, she accepted his offer. Her mentor helped her complete the process of filling out the FAFSA and reassured her when she was waiting to hear back on her financial aid package. When she didn’t receive financial aid, her mentor put her in touch with the Financial Aid office. Unfortunately, despite three faculty members from her high school vouching for her status as fully financially independent, Torres says, she wasn’t able to attend her first semester tuition-free as she had hoped. She was only able to afford to take two classes.

Throughout the fall semester, her mentor, Stefan Hall, continued to text her to check in, asking about how her classes were going and how she was doing. When she told Hall she was struggling with her online math course, he told her about the academic support center and gave her a link to the center’s website so she could request a tutor. Torres didn’t have a working printer, something she needed for a class, and Hall told her who to reach out to at the college to access a printer. He also sent her the department co-chairs’ emails should she want to appeal the professor’s requirement; and, he offered to advocate for her so she wouldn’t be forced to print material or suffer academically, but she declined those offers.

Not having a printer or internet are just the kinds of obstacles that cause students to fall behind and drop out, says T.J. Barber, director for outreach and student life at MCC. Because of budget cuts, MCC’s academic advisors have a caseload of 700 students each, he says. He’s grateful for the Achieve Hartford mentors who serve as resources to first-year students, the large percentage of whom are first-generation and low-income students who don’t have anyone in their life to guide them through getting into and through college.

“We really try to make it possible for students to be paying attention to what’s happening in the classroom. If you’re sleeping on a bench in Bushnell Park, solving for X is the least of your problems,” says Barber. “Having a partner like Achieve Hartford makes all the difference. We know a significant number of students would not be on our campus if not for Achieve Hartford mentors helping them.”

As the fall semester progressed, Torres’ mentor reminder her when it was time to fill out the FAFSA and register for spring classes. She appreciates both the information and the support she receives from Hall, she says, especially going to school during a pandemic.

“Just hearing from someone checking in to make sure I’m OK really helps. Stefan emailed me saying, ‘Your mental health is important too.’ He kept giving me information that he thought that I may need to help me along the way. He’s been very open about that stuff,” she says. “He says, ‘I’m not the person who knows everything. I know some stuff.’ He told me he doesn’t like having to take courses all online. That put me at ease; I’m not the only person struggling with the material. He’s ahead of me [in college.] He has more experience than I do. It’s good to know there are people who are the same age as I am who are here to help new college students.”

“Peer mentorship is at the heart of Achieve Hartford’s summer transition and college persistence programs because it works,” says Paul Diego Holzer, executive director of Achieve Hartford. “Let us know if you want more information on college-level peer mentorship.”

GradGuru Comes at ‘Perfect Time’

Francine Whyte plans to transfer to a four-year college after she earns her associate degree from Capital Community College this spring, so she really appreciated the transfer deadline reminders the  GradGuru  app texted to her phone. With classes nearly all online, the Bloomfield resident says, she doesn’t see the usual posters in elevators and on bulletin boards announcing events, deadlines and services. 

“If we were on campus, someone would remind us, but now we have to find out for ourselves,” she says. When she received text notifications through the GradGuru app, she marked them in her journal. “There’s one event happening today at 2, a virtual event. It’s going to tell us about how to keep going with the pandemic going on,” says Whyte, 20. She was planning on attending, adding that she wouldn’t have known about it if not for the text message.  

After one semester with the GradGuru app, students and staff appreciate the tool and say it’s been especially helpful since the pandemic moved fall classes online. Thanks to its funders, Achieve Hartford, as part of its College Persistence partnership with Capital, paid for one year of the GradGuru app for all Capital students as a pilot program. GradGuru texts students about deadlines for a host of tasks, such as registering for and dropping classes and filing the FAFSA; and notifies them about upcoming events and services available to them. Students who download the app get a chance to win a $100 gift card, and when students use the app to do things like check in with their advisor, make an education plan and keep a 3.5 average, they earn badges and gift cards.  

A survey of students who sought the services of the Academic Success Center showed that 10 percent of students who accessed the Center during the fall 2020 semester learned about it through GradGuru, says Marie Basche, director. She called it a “godsend.”  

“This certainly could have been beneficial two years ago. The fact that it happened when it did was just the perfect time,” Basche says. “Right now, especially, it’s really critical to have this extra form of communication that’s in real time.” 

Capital’s students, who range in age from 18 to 80, have busy lives, with children, jobs and responsibilities, she says. The app helps keep students connected to the college. 

Tara Sanford is new to Capital this January, where she’s taking a math course that she needs to apply to a nursing program. A Maryland resident, she is also attending college there while raising five children between 7 and 14 years old, and she and her husband plan to move their family to Connecticut when he gets transferred to the U.S.  Naval submarine base in Groton. She used the GradGuru app to find a host of resources such as COVID-19 testing sites, Veterans Affairs offices and childcare providers, she says.  

Even though she’s well organized, she appreciates the reminders and a section on the app called “tips.”  

“You can see everything from the library hours to citing a paper to reminders to send back your book if you’re renting it,” Sanford says. “I liked the little tidbit reminders about things that a lot of new students may not think about.”

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