The following article was originally published by NNY360 on June 3, 2021.

MASSENA — Of the 72 schools that applied, seven local schools have been selected to participate in a $1.5 million college and career readiness program.

St. Lawrence County schools that were among the 20 north country and Vermont schools selected for the CFES (College for Every Student) Brilliant Pathways program include Hermon-DeKalb Central School in DeKalb Junction, J.W. Leary Junior High School in Massena, Norwood-Norfolk High School in Norfolk and St. Lawrence Central Elementary School in Brasher Falls.

Jefferson County schools that were selected include Case Middle School in Watertown, General Brown Central School in Dexter and LaFargeville Central School in LaFargeville,

The schools will participate in the North Country Brilliant Pathways program, which was newly launched by CFES Brilliant Pathways, a college and career readiness nonprofit based in Essex, N.Y.

“We are very excited about this new partnership and are looking forward to the opportunities it brings to our students,” St. Lawrence Central Elementary School Principal Danielle Colterman.

“Proud of our high school for their acceptance into this new, dynamic program. Great things for NNCS!” Norwood-Norfolk Central School Superintendent James Cruikshank posted on Facebook.

The program will provide schools with a multi-faceted, comprehensive college readiness program that will put more students on a path to college. Program officials say a lower percentage of rural students currently attend college compared with their urban and suburban counterparts, and they drop out at far higher rates.

They said rural students attend college at a slightly lower rate than urban students, 59% versus 61%, but retention rates are much lower. Twenty-nine percent of rural Americans aged 18 to 24 are enrolled in colleges and universities compared to 42% of all Americans in that age range.

With the pandemic, Free Application for Federal Student Aid completions, a sign of intent to go to college, dropped 10% nationally this year and 15% in rural areas.

Program officials said the schools that were selected demonstrated a need for the program and a strong commitment to work in partnership with CFES to make it successful.

Several services will be provided to the participating schools, including a dedicated professional program director for each school who will make in-person and virtual visits throughout the year and guide the development of college and career plans.

There will also be several professional development and enrichment opportunities for educators, partners and families. Included are monthly college and career readiness advisor trainings certified by the University of Vermont.

The program will offer a vast library of resources, as well as partnerships and networking opportunities with 200 colleges and universities and 230 businesses and corporations. In addition, there will be opportunities for networking, collaboration and recognition, including becoming a nationally recognized School of Distinction.

The North Country Brilliant Pathways program will also offer partnerships with urban schools to promote cultural exchange and connection and prepare students to navigate a diverse world. Each participating student will complete an annual 10-point college and career plan that is certified by CFES.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the responses, both in their number and quality,” CFES Brilliant Pathways President and Chief Executive Officer Rick Dalton said in a statement “Too many rural young people lack the skills and education to take on today’s high-wage jobs, and they are being left out of the 21st century economy as a result. The goal of this program is to level the playing field for a large group of rural students and ultimately rural communities.”

He said the new program will be expanded in the future.

“We hope to find additional funding to work with other schools that applied. All of them submitted strong applications. The program will serve as a national model for rural students across the country,” Mr. Dalton said.

Other New York Schools that were selected for the program include Brushton-Moira Central School in Brushton, Crown Point Central School in Crown Point, Keene Central School in Keene Valley, Long Lake Central School in Long Lake, Northeastern Clinton Central School in Champlain, Northern Adirondack High School in Ellenburg Depot, Plattsburgh High School in Plattsburgh and Tupper Lake Middle High School in Tupper Lake.

By Bob Beckstead