Jon Reidel

ESSEX, NY – Josh Harrica has been working hard to increase the college and career readiness of students at Northeastern Clinton High School since taking over as principal in 2015. The implementation of a new federal grant awarded to CFES Brilliant Pathways is taking his efforts to the next level.

The CFES North Country Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development (RPED) program is designed to improve rates of postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and completion and move graduates into high-wage, in-demand regional jobs. Harrica said district goals align with CFES’ comprehensive 10-point plan that focuses on college and career readiness.

“The pillars of the CFES 10-point plan provide a great plan for school improvement,” said Harrica. “We’ve noticed gains in all of the college and career readiness areas since partnering with CFES.” 

The U.S. Department of Education grant is supporting CFES’ work with 4,000 students in 10 North Country schools: AuSable Valley, Bouquet Valley, Brushton Moira, Hermon DeKalb, Keene Valley, LaFargeville, Northeastern Clinton, Northern Adirondack, Norwood Norfolk and Tupper Lake.

CFES has helped each of the schools build comprehensive mentoring programs, and its College and Career Readiness Advisor trainings, certified by the University of Vermont, are providing college students, teachers, parents and members of the community the tools they need to become high-impact mentors. 

At Norwood-Norfolk, district superintendent George Biffer said, “The mentoring program with SUNY-Potsdam has been huge. The collaboration has allowed our students to learn about college through the experiences of the Potsdam students.” Tupper Lake Principal Amanda Zullo said  members of the local Rotary Club have stepped to serve as college and career readiness advisors for her students.  

Essential Skills activities are helping students develop competencies like perseverance, teamwork, agility and leadership. Biffer implemented a 20-minute daily advisory period for grades 5-12 to do Essential Skills activities and tied it in with another program focused on building empathy. Tupper Lake’s Zullo integrated a department-wide monthly Essential Skill unit that includes a follow-up reflection.

By the end of the academic year, all students in the CFES program will have visited one college campus.  The 10 CFES-RPED College Partners are: Clarkson University, Clinton Community College, North Country Community College, Paul Smith’s College, St. Lawrence University, SUNY Adirondack, SUNY Canton, SUNY Plattsburgh, SUNY Potsdam, and the University of Vermont.

Special college and career readiness activities have included: West Point STEM Day, where students worked alongside cadets building robotic modules and learning coding; Manufacturing Day at Clinton Community College featuring local industry showing students potential jobs; Healthcare Day at the Adirondack Medical Center that exposed students to potential careers in the field; and an upcoming Career Connect Jam at SUNY-Plattsburgh that is using RPED funds to bring employers to campus for students to meet.    

Funding for the grant was announced last spring by CFES President & CEO Rick Dalton and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who created the Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development Program (RPED) two years ago.

“As the nation’s leading educational non-profit located in a rural community, we see firsthand the unique challenges faced by children in rural America. We intend to leverage student success and economic development in our region so that other parts of the country benefit,” said Dalton.