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Educators Discuss College Access for Inner-City Students (Part II)

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I continue the conversation with Joshua Steckel and Beth Zasloff, authors of Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty (The New Press, 2014), as they share their thoughts about methods for teaching time management and finance skills to high school students and about on-campus medical and health resources for incoming college students. To read the first installment about educators understanding students' situations and the benefits of residential colleges for students, click here.

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Some students had a difficult time acclimating to their college campuses and balancing their classes, social life, work, and studies. What methods can high schools use to teach students about time management and finances that could help ease the transition for students, especially minority students, from high school to college lifestyles?

Joshua Steckel: The transition to college is tough for all students, and adjusting to campus life is especially difficult for students coming from poverty. This issue demands increased sensitivity from colleges. Often, students lack resources for basic needs like buying books and staying in touch with their families, and as they face new academic and social challenges, they also struggle with the problems of home.

At my current school, the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies (BCS), a member of the NYC Outward Bound Schools (NYCOB) network, teachers and counselors prepare students for these difficulties by giving them tools to understand and manage them. In the senior English class, students conduct sociological research into factors that lead to higher college graduation rates, interviewing people in their communities, including BCS alumni. BCS works with an organization called College Access: Research & Action (CARA) that runs a College Bridge Program, through which a former BCS student is hired to support students in getting from acceptance to enrollment and to facilitate sessions on the transition to college. Current students are asked to think through sample budgets for a year of college life and study and to analyze time management concerns, using actual course schedules and other artifacts from former BCS students' college experiences.

One of the students in the book was diagnosed with lupus, got sick during the summer bridge program she needed to complete before starting her freshman year at Skidmore, and returned to Brooklyn, N.Y. How can students with serious health issues become more informed about on-campus medical, health, and wellness resources available to them and not sacrifice their opportunity to attend a residential college at the same time?

Beth Zasloff: The crucial need for affordable, quality health care is an undercurrent in many of the stories in the book: getting sick, for so many American families, can mean losing everything, including educational opportunities.

Before they begin college, all students need to know how to find medical care and how they will pay for it. These questions should be part of transition-to-college work at all high schools: Will students' current coverage continue after high school? Will their coverage be portable if they are leaving home? What kinds of coverage are available for students who are uninsured or underinsured? What kinds of health services are available on the campus?  Students with chronic health problems need to connect with a counseling or health professional at their college who can be fully informed about their situation and help them to navigate the system.

How can high school teachers, college staff, and professors help students recognize their potential and see the new possibilities that come with completing their education?

Joshua Steckel: A key starting point for educators is to listen to their students and work to empathize with them. I've found I can best help my students to see the choices ahead when I set aside my own role as expert and try my best to understand where they are coming from. When students describe transformative experiences in college, they focus on relationships--with professors, admissions counselors, and friends--who heard them, learned from them, and served as the lights to help them see a way forward.

Photo Credit: The New Press

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