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Early Intervention – Creating Belief in the Eighth Grade

In 2015, the sixth and newest president of SUNY Ulster, Dr. Alan P. Roberts, arrived at SUNY Ulster with an inspirational plan to reach eighth-grade students and to engage them in college during grades nine to 12. Embarking on a bold plan of early intervention to reach all nine school districts in Ulster County, President Roberts engaged the Ulster College Foundation, Inc. in rolling out the pilot plan for the President’s Challenge Scholarship in 2016.

Dr. Alan P. Roberts and a President’s Challenge Scholarship recipient

Dr. Roberts felt that the important aspects behind the creation of the President’s Challenge Scholarship were that students need to be engaged academically at an early age, but also that they are engaged in the big picture aspects of college preparation as early as eighth grade. A broad scope of engagement was envisioned and incorporated as core components of the scholarship with the idea of building a belief in each student in their successful futures. The program started with the goal of changing lives by helping first-generation economically disadvantaged students with overcoming socio-economic barriers associated with attending college. Six students were identified as inaugural recipients who would most benefit from a mentorship program during high school to guarantee their success and make higher education a reality as first-in-family to (potentially) graduate college. Key donors met the challenge to sponsor and support them on this journey. By the 2019-20 school year, 49 eighth graders from all nine school districts in Ulster County were added to the scholarship classes. Today a scholarship contingent that is approximately 100 strong is growing by 50 new eighth-graders from all of the nine school districts to form a formidable group of diversified and dedicated students who have committed to “Taking the President’s Challenge.” The scholarship provides the solution to our students’ first obstacle – how their education will be funded! Imagine the impact of this overture of belief! Empowering first-generation college students on the path to and through college is the impetus for this challenge, and we see that impact firsthand in the faces of the recipients – and in the pride they feel when arriving on campus. SUNY Ulster assigns college mentors to PCS recipients and provides counseling and support for these students at their high school, at events on the SUNY Ulster campus, and online. Imagine a ninth-grade student meeting their mentor at a campus-based event. Imagine 10th- and 11th-grade students receiving program content and college enrollment guidance while on SUNY Ulster’s college campus. Students take campus tours, meet faculty, obtain college I.D. badges, and have lunch with the President. We wrap up the days on campus with college notebooks, hats, drink containers, and other college identified items to help our students bring home with them a small part of their newly developed opportunity.

At the school districts, college staff meets with PCS students four to six times per year and collaborates with school administration to schedule visits, monitor students’ academic progress as it relates to scholarship requirements, and identify possible support needs as they relate to student success.

Engagement opportunities for PCS students are also created at the high schools on various topics including academic planning, financial literacy, career exploration, college lingo, progress reports, portal engagement, and leadership. They also discuss college readiness topics such as time/stress management, networking, conflict resolution, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence.

This year has been a challenge for all of us given COVID-19 precautions, and so in 2020-2021, support for virtual/remote learning opportunities will be added to the programming for PCS, as well as online student group discussions. PCS college mentors will also support new PCS students as they become familiar with SUNY Ulster technology including email and online learning.

Through the college mentors, students are advised on Early College (on-campus) and the Collegian Program, which allows students to earn credits towards an Associate’s Degree in their high schools. They also learn about admissions, financial aid, and SUNY Ulster campus resources.

Belief might begin with the notice of acceptance into the President’s Challenge Scholarship program and the knowledge that someone is dedicated to their education. But ownership of one’s future is what is born once a student is engaged in the program, and for that, we find ourselves eternally indebted to those who funded this opportunity and those who continue to do so. Exposure to opportunity might have a quantified value, the cost of an education for this year, for example; but belief in oneself is a gift that stays within a student forever. It informs them in a manner that permits them to take risks and to be bold and to speak up for themselves – this is a gift that has no price tag – it is character-forming and life-changing, and that is what comes from belief.

Lorraine Salmon is Executive Director of Institutional Advancement and External Relations for SUNY Ulster and the Ulster Community College Foundation, Inc. Fourteen of the President Challenge Scholarship students have been sponsored by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation in West Palm Beach, Florida.

A Desire to Heal Unseen Pain Drives Senior’s Calling

The following is an excerpt from an essay written by a graduating senior in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach CountyTake Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

In modern-day society, I‘m categorized as an African American woman. But my Haitian culture runs deeper than the outward appearance of my skin. Where I’m from, our struggles are both mental and physical. According to the Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization combating poverty in Haiti, “59 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day.” Knowing that my culture is a place that is constantly fighting depression inspired me to become a successful psychologist in the future. In this role, I would like to appeal to the biased and skeptical individuals that would see therapy as a weakness.

While accomplishing the process of getting my psychology degree, I’ll have the ability to help people understand and manage their problems by identifying their strengths and available resources. No one is perfect, so it’s important to have those people who can evaluate an individual holistically and view the scope of their problems. I hope to expand my career into social work. I would like to help children that are in danger mentally, physically, and sexually. Once I receive the degree I’m going to help people overcome all the issues they are facing. Lastly, I will have an ongoing business for low-income families that need help but can’t afford it. With the knowledge I gain, I’ll take it back to my culture and help them relieve some of their stress.

Ednisha Vertus standing in front of school building.

Leadership, public speaking and service work are roles that I play in my everyday life. I wouldn’t describe my capabilities as skills because skills are things that are learned and taught, while capabilities originate from within. I will lead my future clients towards the right path to overcome obstacles that are blocking their success. I shall inspire them to be a better version of themselves, and not let anyone categorize them. There is a solution to everything; you just have to be willing to find it and work for it. When I do become a psychologist, I would like to lower the suicidal death rate by encouraging people to form a plan to solve their problems.

There are many things that I am grateful for but most importantly is my eyesight. A tragic accident when I was 6 resulted in me being stabbed in my eye. This incident caused me to realize that there are many different types of hidden pain a person can feel. It allowed me to view world issues from a different perspective. As I was teased about the Band-Aid on my eyelid, no one knew how I felt inside. They saw the outcome of my accident and assumed to know my feelings. With all the pain I’ve experienced mentally and physically I want everyone to know that me becoming a psychologist is not something I decided for myself, but what I truly believe is my calling on this earth.

Ednisha Vertus is a senior at Lake Worth High School in Florida and a participant in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program.

Start Planning for College the Day You Start High School

Going through the college admissions process is as much an opportunity to learn about yourself as it is a journey to define and pursue your future college and career goals. Path to College aims to demystify this competitive and sometimes overwhelming process by providing in-depth and comprehensive expert advice to students across our county regardless of economic background. As a partner of Achieve Palm Beach County along with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we are committed to increasing the rate of students preparing for, enrolling in, and persisting through degree credentialing programs. With that shared mission in mind, we are happy to share a few quick tips to help you manage your career and college search.

9th Grade — Take a Career Aptitude test through a free account at My Career Shines. Next, explore the suggested careers through volunteer and enrichment opportunities. Consider how you can plan your course load to prepare for this career path. Look for academically rigorous courses. Challenging electives like journalism, debate, or high-tech computer classes are a great way to round out your transcript. Talk often and excitedly about your goals or ideas for your future. Look for opportunities and feedback. Expert tip: The Admissions committee loves to see more than two years of a foreign language on your transcript. Science courses are the number one reason students do not graduate on time. Make sure to get your required science classes completed as soon as possible. Do not put them off and plan on taking two at once!

10th Grade — Seek advanced coursework and volunteer opportunities that match your career interests. Take your PERT test and try to dual enroll over your summer break. Otherwise, try to find a job, internship, or volunteer opportunity that will help you gain skills for the workforce.

11th Grade — Complete a virtual tour or on-campus tour. Research the colleges you are interested in at College Navigator. Study for your SAT or ACT regularly, aiming to put in at least one to two hours a week. There are free online preparation resources through Khan Academy or ACT Academy Aim to revise your personal statement (College application essay) three to five times over summer. Get a second reader, and make sure to follow the instructors.

12th Grade — Choose three teachers to ask for a recommendation letter. Give them between two to four weeks to prepare. Ask them, “Can you write me a STRONG recommendation letter?” In October, fill out your FAFSA. Apply to your dream school during early admission in November. Set a goal to apply to one college every other week and stick to it. Use the Common App to help manage the process. Apply to scholarships between October and March and shoot for one a week. Use your personal statement as a starting template and rework for each scholarship you apply for.

Additional resources for students and parents are available on the Achieve Palm Beach County website at achievepbc.org/resources.

Christine Sylvain is the Founder and Executive Director of the Path to College Fellowship, whose mission is to secure the acceptance of as many high-achieving, low-income students into top-tier universities as possible.