The following was originally published in the Sun Community News.
PLATTSBURGH | In the summer of 2021, Jason Jones walked onto the campus of Champlain College with no intention of ever attending. No one in his family had ever gone to college and only 22 percent of adults in the rural Adirondack region where he lives have a bachelor’s degree.
That all changed for the eighth grader from Beekmantown after touring the bucolic Burlington campus and falling in love with its Game Design Studio. He looked excited, but also defeated, when he said, “I wish my grades weren’t so bad; I have no chance of getting in here.” Unaware that his previous grades wouldn’t count against him, Jones’s face lit up when informed that he could start anew as a ninth grader. “You mean I get a fresh start?” he exclaimed as though given a new lease on life.
Now a sophomore, Jones is part of a U.S. Department of Education GEAR UP grant won by CFES Brilliant Pathways in 2018 to improve the college and career readiness of 2,500 students at Ausable Valley, Beekmantown, Crown Point, Malone, Moriah, Ticonderoga and Willsboro Central School Districts.
Newly released survey data from students in grades 5 through 11 and their parents show significant increases in postsecondary aspirations, academic performance, financial literacy, knowledge of credentials for careers in STEM, the college application process, and parental involvement in the college and career process.
Overall, 85.5 percent of all students plan to continue their education after high school, with 72 percent planning to earn a degree from a four- or two-year college. The increase in postsecondary aspirations correlates with a better understanding of the college admissions process and how to pay for college. In fact, approximately 70 percent of students reported having knowledge of 2- to 4-year college acceptance requirements.
A majority of students also reported having knowledge of resources to pay for college like scholarships, grants, loans and work-study opportunities. CFES corporate partners such as UFirst Federal Credit Union and Next Gen Personal Finance teach financial literacy, while more than 20 college partners provide college admissions information to CFES-GEAR UP students.
Despite an increase nationally of students citing cost as the main reason for not attending college, the majority of CFES-GEAR UP students believe they can afford to attend a 4-year school, due in part to increased knowledge of available financial resources.
IMPROVING SCHOOLS, LIFTING LOCAL ECONOMY
In terms of college enrollment, Beekmantown Central has led the way with more than 70 percent of students enrolling in 2- or 4-year institutions, including the likes of Amherst, Cornell, St. Lawrence and the University of Vermont. Peer mentoring by these students of younger ones in the GEAR UP cohort has added to the college-going culture, along with college tours including five overnight trips involving 20 colleges and universities across New England and New York.
As Beekmantown’s reputation spreads, Superintendent Dan Mannix is starting to receive calls from real estate agents because of the district’s college-going success, asking for information on the school’s progress to share with an increasing number of families wanting to move to the community.
“I think it speaks to the power a school can have on an entire community, and the pride students and parents feel that other people want to be a part of as well,” said Mannix.
Another focus of the grant has been increased knowledge of STEM-focused careers. CFES relies on corporate partners like electronic aerospace leaders Beta Technologies, Benchmark Space Systems and the UVM Medical Center to expose students to potential careers in STEM, and partners with colleges like West Point, which puts on robotic module workshops for students, including one at Clinton Community College’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing.
PARENT INVOLVEMENT PLAYING CRITICAL ROLE
Results also showed an increase in parent involvement — a historically challenging demographic to engage, with 87.3 percent of parents having discussed postsecondary plans with their child in the past 12 months. More than 92 percent believe their child will continue their education in some way, with approximately 68 percent expecting their child to earn a bachelor’s degree, 14 percent an associate’s degree, and 10 percent a one-year trade school or professional certificate.
CFES holds parent events focused on the FAFSA, college application process, careers, and other postsecondary opportunities. Hundreds of parents took CFES’s College and Career Readiness Advisor training, resulting in the majority of parents reporting an increase in knowledge of college pathways and the requirements for their child to be accepted into a four-year, two-year or technical school.
“It all starts with culture building, and CFES does a great job doing that,” said AuSable Valley English Teacher and CFES Liaison Heather Gottlob. “Once you have a good culture that promotes learning, you can build off academics. We are building a foundation our students can rise from and have success.”