Mental Health Supports and Student Success at SPCC

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Gateway to College programs differentiate themselves because of the wraparound supports they provide for students who have often struggled to balance out-of-school demands and stresses with their academics. These supports allow students to overcome barriers in their lives and enjoy academic success that may have otherwise been elusive. At the Gateway to College program at St. Paul College, program director Adam Kunz struggled to articulate why many of his students, when faced with difficulties, would choose flight as opposed to fighting to overcome some of their life challenges in order to succeed in school. When he was discussing his challenge, a colleague at St. Paul Public Schools helped him realize that some of his students were experiencing mental health challenges, which Adam wasn’t able to specifically articulate prior. The colleague opened a discussion with Minneapolis-based Community School Collaborative, and that discussion led to a partnership that has increased individual success for the Gateway to College students and stronger outcomes for the program.

 

The partnership with Community School Collaborative brought Bronwyn Cole onto the staff at the Gateway to College program. When students enter the program, they’re often coming from a situation where they may not have had a great relationship with academia and the education system. “Our goal is to meet with each of the incoming students with the intention of building trust that could lead to a confidential therapeutic relationship,” says Kunz. The staff also meets weekly as a student support team and Cole's work at Gateway to College leads students to advocate for themselves, which helps them recognize past negative patterns and overcome those patterns. Students begin to feel that they can trust this is a situation that will support them to overcome any bumps along the way.

 

Kunz says that having Cole as part of the staff, where students can have somewhere safe and non-academic to run, is critical. But the staff doesn’t always wait for the students to come to them. The trust that they establish at the outset allows them to be more proactive in reaching out to students when they don’t attend school. “Student support can’t be a passive process waiting for them to come in,” shared Kunz. Cole added, “We seek them out, and stand on their porches. It takes time.” That time, however, leads to stronger student retention and an increase in program graduation rates. “I can point to several relationships where students wouldn’t be in school if it wasn’t for a relationship they had with Cole and the staff,” Kunz stated.

 

In July, the diligence of the Gateway to College program at St. Paul was awarded during a session at the Gateway to College National Network Peer Learning Conference in Portland. Kunz and colleague Darren Ginther accepted the Gateway Graduation Achievement Award, for exceeding the network graduation benchmark, and Kunz shared some of the programs work as part of a panel session at the conference (photo). The work of the Community School Collaborative has received recognition as well. They were recently awarded a countywide grant from Ramsey County DHS that will provide school-based mental health much needed funding to establish more sustainable models throughout the 60-plus schools participating. Cole emphasized that their work is not cookie-cutter, as challenges differ between schools and individuals, but their work with Gateway to College is an example of a program that started with no school-based mental health and two years later is able to point to success.

 

 

Once in Gateway, Always in Gateway

Monday, September 10, 2018

"Once in Gateway, Always in Gateway” is the vision that keeps students thriving during and upon graduation from the Gateway to College at Massasoit Community College (GtCMCC) program in Brockton, Massachusetts.

 

 

Tucked in the back of the campus library, in a space partitioned off for the program 11 years ago, is the Gateway office at Massasoit. GtC banners marking each year, signed by every graduate, are proudly displayed. A warm welcome, a big bowl of snacks and intentional, daily student support from Resource Specialists, Balbina Cardoso, Cheryl Ryan, Sharice Miles and Program Assistant, Desiree Singleton greet every student. This team has worked together for over a decade and they consistently monitor student attendance, academics, and state of mind. They have built close ties with MCC faculty and community members, and celebrate them each year along with students at Gateway’s graduation. 

 

A team approach to student support, three sequential student success focused seminars and cohort-based classes led by dedicated Gateway faculty are central to the success of a program that prepares students for college, career and life. GtCMCC, graduates a great majority of students with an average of 22 college credits, and 84% of GtCMCC students persisted through their first year in 2016-17. Most importantly, students report a sense of family, connection and care from Gateway staff and faculty that provides the safe space and opportunities for self-reflection, growth and continued engagement with Gateway staff well beyond high school graduation.

 

Three staff-led seminars anchor the student experience and are designed to scaffold students towards the development and achievement of their dreams. A first-year experience seminar supports student transition into Gateway and the college environment. In the second semester, students deepen their connections to the community and build workplace skills through a community service-focused internship. All students in the final semester at Gateway complete a capstone seminar which supports transition to college and career. Every student presents their personal post-Gateway plan in front of their peers, parents, professors and community leaders, helping them reflect on the journey that led them to a second chance at success .

Gateway to College at Massasoit was one of the initial Gateway replication sites, launching with its first cohort of students in 2007. As Gateway enters its 12th year on campus, Christina Alves has been promoted to serve as Assistant Dean for Early College Programs at Massasoit. She will retain leadership of the program while Cheryl Ryan will coordinate logistics. In these new roles Christina and the team will bring Gateway-esque supports and early college experiences to more students on Boston’s South Shore at Massasoit. The team plans to train other college and district leaders in the Pathways to Success, Identity-based Motivation curriculum so that it can be implemented in area high schools as a pre-Gateway experience.

If you are interested in learning more about Gateway to College at Massasoit, plan to register for the Pathways to Success training that will take place at MCC on October 10 and 11th, 2018.

 

A Second Chance, A Career in the Airline Industry

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

There are myriad reasons why a student may decide to drop out of high school. Many students simply find it too difficult to succeed in a traditional high school environment. This may stem from issues involving bullying, lack of support from teachers and peers, or a one-size-fits-all structure. For Claire, all of these factors led to her leaving her traditional public high school.

 

Claire had always done well in her classes, but she “didn’t ever feel challenged enough” academically. She began to feel depressed and increasingly unnoticed and unsupported by her teachers and classmates. Eventually, she began to lose confidence in herself and started to “go towards a downward spiral” in her academic life. By her junior year, Claire had little motivation remaining. During this time, a family member suggested that Claire join the Gateway to College program at Portland Community College. When she learned that the program would provide her with the opportunity to earn both high school and college credits, she was enthusiastic.

 

Upon beginning the program, Claire immediately excelled. “I loved being in a college environment. It was so much more of a mature environment. You could tell that everyone wanted to be there and that they were constantly challenging themselves to do better.” She quickly found a “family” through the program, a new network of teachers and peers who provided her with the encouragement and support that she lacked but desperately needed in high school.

 

Before Gateway, Claire recalls being very shy and timid. She mentions lacking confidence in herself. “I wouldn’t open up to people as much or help others. I didn’t have the confidence to make friends or do any extracurricular activities. Before Gateway, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to achieve the big goals in my life that I set for myself.”

 

Claire’s confidence increased to the point where she elected to pursue an Associate of Applied Science in the Aviation Maintenance Technology program at Portland Community College. Claire thrived in the program, graduating in 2014. She currently works as an Aircraft Mechanic for Horizon Air at Portland International Airport. Claire’s journey is an important reminder that there are multiple pathways to success for young people, and a number of industries that offer promising careers. Gateway to College National Network is committed to helping young people find a pathway - whether through future education or a successful career - that will allow them to thrive.

Mayor Wheeler, civic leaders announce April Opportunity Youth Job Fair

Thursday, March 08, 2018


 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Glenn Fee
Associate Vice President, External Relations
971-634-1525
gfee@gatewaytocollege.org

 

PORTLAND, Ore., March 7, 2018 - At a breakfast gathering, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and civic leaders - including PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, Mount Hood Community College President Debra Derr, and Worksystems Executive Director Andrew McGough - called for regional employers and volunteers to support an April 13 Job Fair expected to draw 2,000 of the region's Opportunity Youth.

 

Younger workers, especially teens, are struggling to take advantage of our region's strong job growth. More than 30,000 of the region's young people between 16 and 24 - over 16% of that age group - are out of school and out of work. At the same time, employers in a number of sectors lack a pool of qualified workers. These Opportunity Youth represent a strong pool of prospective workers, and the fair will serve to connect the young people with immediate jobs and career pathways.

 

The Opportunity Youth Job Fair - co-hosted by Worksystems and Gateway to College National Network with support from the national 100,000 Opportunities Initiative - will be held April 13 from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Oregon Convention Center. Youth will be able to interview for immediate job openings, and register for Summerworks and Worksystems' new Connect2Careers initiative. Connect2Careers is a systemic approach to organize jobs and training for young people to certify skills, giving them a leg up in the labor market and enhancing the quality of our local labor pool.

 

In his remarks, Mayor Wheeler underscored the urgency to provide first jobs and career pathways for our region's youth. "Despite our booming economy, many in the city continue to struggle to make ends meet. Assuring that all Portlanders have the opportunity to fully participate in our economy is a fundamental goal of my administration and essential for our continued economic success. I urge everyone here today to talk to your networks of businesses to be at the Opportunity Youth Job Fair." In announcing their national coalition's support for Portland's efforts, 100,000 Opportunities Initiative Executive Director Marie Davis shared, "The initiative is excited to support the City of Portland and this critical partnership between Gateway to College and Worksystems in their efforts to provide resources, jobs and training necessary to change the lives of youth."

 

Participating employers including Starbucks, Salt and Straw, Macy's, and IBEW Local 48. The Opportunity Youth Job Fair will include a Resource Corner, with services such as records expungement, housing and transportation assistance, and apprenticeship and training program opportunities. A Skills Village will allow young adults to practice interview skills, fill out job applications from participating employers, and create profiles for Summerworks and Connect2Careers.

 

For more information about the Opportunity Youth Job Fair, including registration for employers, youth, and volunteers, visit http://www.gatewaytocollege.org/pdx-job-fair.html. For more information about Summerworks and Connect2Careers, visit https://www.worksystems.org/summerworks.

 

About Gateway to College National Network (GtCNN)
GtCNN supports communities nationally in building sustainable pathways for out-of-school and off-track youth to a high school diploma and a meaningful college credential. GtCNN's PDX Bridge initiative - launched in 2017 - propels Portland-area foster, juvenile justice, and homeless youth on a pathway from high school to and through college. www.gatewaytocollege.org, @gtcnn
 
About Worksystems
Worksystems accelerates economic growth in the City of Portland, Multnomah and Washington Counties by pursuing and investing resources to improve the quality of the workforce. They design and coordinate workforce development programs and services delivered through a network of local partners to help people get the skills, training and education they need to go to work or to advance in their careers. www.worksystems.org, @worksystems
 
About the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative
The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative has created the nation's largest employer-led private sector coalition committed to creating pathways to employment for young people. Companies engaged in the coalition help launch careers for young people who are just entering the workforce, including full- and part-time work, as well as internships, apprenticeships and on-the-job training. Each company is also committed to developing potential in youth who have some work experience but are looking to gain new skills that lead to successful careers. www.100kopportunities.org

 

Dual Enrollment and CTE Courses are Critical in Ensuring Oregon Youth Graduate College and Career Ready

Monday, January 29, 2018

 

We are heartened by the news that Oregon’s on-time high school graduation rate increased to 77% in 2016-2017, and, in particular, the achievement gap for our state’s Latino youth is closing. However, we still have a long way to go in order to ensure that all of Oregon’s young people complete high school ready for success in college and career.

 

Nearly one in four students still do not graduate from high school on time and, of those, many never receive a diploma. Those who do graduate high school are often left unprepared to succeed in college or in the workplace. Last May, the Oregonian reported on a study showing that 75% of Oregon community college students had to take non-credit remedial classes when they arrived on campus.

 

Oregon voters recognized the dual challenge of graduating more students and ensuring that they graduated ready for college and careers when they passed Measure 98 in 2016. This year, districts are beginning to receive Measure 98 funds to help them focus on dropout prevention and recovery, access to college courses, and career and technical education.

 

The increased relevance of dual enrollment and CTE courses are critical strategies for keeping students engaged in high school and preparing them for postsecondary success. Research demonstrates that taking college courses while in high school significantly increases students’ likelihood and readiness to matriculate to postsecondary education after graduation. The effect is especially strong for low-income and first-generation college students.

 

One new program, PDX Bridge, introduced last year by Gateway to College National Network, is making dual enrollment opportunities available for our most vulnerable youth, those who have been in foster care, have experienced homelessness, or have been impacted by the juvenile justice system. Currently, only 50% of these students graduate from high school and few continue on to college. Those who do continue in college are unlikely to persist due to a whole host of barriers. In order to show continued improvement in our state’s graduation rates, our greatest opportunity is to focus on our most vulnerable youth.

 

PDX Bridge is a collaborative involving schools, state agencies, non-profits, and community colleges in Multnomah County, providing wraparound supports to help these young people prepare for and enroll in college courses while they are still in high school. Upon graduation, a PDX Bridge Coach continues to work with these students to ensure that they successfully complete their first year in college, a strong measure of future success. In 2018, PDX Bridge will serve even more of our community’s vulnerable youth as it expands from its original program at Portland Community College to Mount Hood Community College and east county school districts.

 

Oregon needs an education system that puts our students on equal footing with the highest-performing states, but we must make sure that our most vulnerable youth are not left behind. Collaboratives like PDX Bridge ensure that our schools, colleges, and agencies are working together to provide the necessary supports to ensure that they do succeed. And when given the opportunities and right supports, they can thrive in college and beyond.

 

Emily Froimson
President, GtCNN

 

Jeremy Asay
Senior Manager, PDX Bridge

PDX Bridge: Jason's Story

Thursday, November 16, 2017

 

 

Jason has a beaming, infectious smile. He loves the musical Wicked, performing at Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings, and he was considering being his favorite Harry Potter character for Halloween.

 

Even though it was only his first week of classes at Portland Community College, he showed my colleague and me around the campus like it was a second home, sharing his favorite hang outs in Tabor Hall and the garden just off Division Street. His confidence wasn’t just a personality trait; Jason was comfortable at the college, in large part due to being a graduate of PDX Bridge, a dual enrollment program that is a partnership between Gateway to College National Network (GtCNN) and PCC.

 

“A lot of students go into college not knowing how to utilize resources at the college and not knowing how to study for their classes and be successful in general,” Jason said. “PDX Bridge really taught me and my classmates how to be successful, which is a lot of pressure. I know, for myself, I would never have been prepared.”

 

PDX Bridge helps students who have experienced homelessness, juvenile justice, or foster care with wraparound support while they earn their high school diploma and enter college or an apprenticeship. GtCNN connects existing support services from 37 regional partners to build this one-of-a-kind bridge program serving Oregon’s most vulnerable student populations.

 

PDX Bridge launched in 2016, and it has already had a marked impact on college-going rates amongst its students. Of the graduates from the initial cohort, 87% are enrolled at PCC or another college for fall term, an enrollment rate that is more than four times the national average college-going rate for foster youth.

 

“In PDX Bridge, there’s a lot of focus on showing students support and teaching them how they can help themselves be better at getting an education, which is a skill I think a lot of students go into college without,” Jason said. “They aren’t just there to give you a grade and have you move on; they’re definitely there to form a relationship with you and help you become a better student and a better person.”

 

Growing up in rural Indiana, Jason was homeschooled. When he began attending public high school, he realized he was behind and struggled to keep up. When he came out as transgender, his family wasn’t supportive, and he eventually dropped out of high school. He moved with extended family to Oregon and attended a few schools, but the barriers to graduation seemed to stack up.

 

“I’ve had a ton of struggles in my life and things that made it really hard, and there were so many times when I thought I would never make it and would give up,” Jason said. “But with help and some support, I’ve realized I can do anything I want to do.”

 

Learning to find and get help was key to getting his education back on track. His College Success Coach in the program, Allison Trowbridge, helped him access some of the resources he had available through PDX Bridge.

 

“Jason just has this strength and boldness. He’s going to accomplish everything he sets out to,” Allison said. “By the time he reached PDX Bridge, he knew exactly what he wanted, and he really knew the value of this program and has seized every opportunity that has come his way.”

 

Allison’s role is to be part advisor, part instructor, and part champion to help students reach their goals. In PDX Bridge, Jason found educational support, but also a community of caring adults and peers who all wanted him to succeed.

 

“The people with PDX Bridge are so supportive and so helpful and so open,” Jason said. “It definitely makes it less daunting going to school, because you know you have somebody you can actually trust who’s going to help you and wants you to succeed.”

 

Jason plans to finish his associate’s degree at PCC and then transfer to a university to study Environmental Science and Fashion. He can’t decide which he likes more, but he hopes to combine the two to improve conditions for workers in clothing manufacturing. Next year, he’ll travel to Africa through the study abroad program, Carpe Mundi, something he’s always wanted to do.

 

We’re excited to see what bright, promising PDX Bridge students like Jason accomplish.

 

Commit to Multnomah County’s Most Vulnerable Youth

Thursday, September 07, 2017


 

 

By Glenn Fee

 

Multnomah County, along with much of the nation, is facing parallel challenges: insufficient skilled workers to fill open positions and unacceptably high unemployment rates among young adults. Indeed, while the employment prospects are positive for those with education beyond high school, the news isn’t great for those with a high school diploma or less, typically people coming from low-income backgrounds. Despite a broad economic recovery, those with only a high school diploma or less are falling farther behind. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, a staggering 95% of the 11.6 million jobs gained in the recent economic recovery have gone to those with at least some college education.

 

The challenge for Oregon is particularly great. Low-income students graduate from high school at lower rates than their peers and are far more likely to be unemployed. More than 61% of Oregon’s Opportunity Youth, young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are out of work and out of school, live below 200% of the federal poverty level.

 

The risk to these young people and their future is clear, but the risk to our community is great as well. A 2012 report by the Cowan Institute estimates the economic burden of each unemployed youth (lost tax revenue, criminal justice expenses, health cost, etc.) to be $13,900 annually. In Multnomah County, where 11% of our young people are Opportunity Youth, that represents a cost of more than $121 million each year. Yes, we need to do more to support these young adults to earn a meaningful postsecondary credential. But, many of these young adults need to work right now.

 

Oregon employers – particularly in fields such as manufacturing, health care, and IT – are concerned about their future pipeline of skilled workers. By connecting Opportunity Youth with jobs that will help them gain valuable skills and experience that place them on a pathway to a meaningful career, we can help our region’s employers close a growing skills gap. More importantly, we’re placing some of our most vulnerable youth on a pathway to success, and a future in our community where they will be able to afford homes, raise a family, and contribute to our region’s vitality.

 

Last May, Gateway to College National Network (GtCNN) held a Jobs and Career Fair in conjunction with our Gateway to College program at PCC. We hosted 24 employers, ranging from Salt and Straw to OHSU to Silicon Forest Electronics. Some of these employers had jobs they were looking to fill immediately, and all of them were eager to connect with a population of young people who are critical to their future workforce needs.

 

At the urging of employers and many of our community partners, GtCNN will host a regional ReConnect Jobs Fair in April 2018. The fair will bring together up to 50 Portland-based employers, 500 youth, and dozens of community volunteers to connect young adults with jobs and other work-based learning opportunities. Youth who have not graduated high school will have the opportunity to enroll in Gateway to College or another high school completion program. Volunteers will help students prepare resumes and cover letters, and hold mock interviews. Employers will offer a minimum of 200 job and work-based learning opportunities for Opportunity Youth who attend the fair.

 

Portland and Multnomah County will become stronger by supporting opportunities for our most vulnerable citizens. In fact, we can’t afford not to.

Get Involved with GtCNN in Oregon

Wednesday, September 06, 2017



Oregon ranks 48th in the nation in high school graduation rates, and one-quarter of our state’s high schools fail to graduate one-third or more of their students on time. Students who do not finish high school have few prospects for employment, and a difficult future. Gateway to College National Network exists to give these students a second chance.

 

 
You can support our work with local youth in a number of ways:
 
Donate:
Donations to Gateway to College National Network have a big impact. The average Gateway student enrolls at age 17 with a GPA of 1.62 and half of the credits needed to achieve a diploma. After graduating from our programs, 73% of our students continue in college (higher than 69% of all high school graduates who go on to attend college). You can donate online, by sending a check to 529 SE Grand Ave., Suite 300. Portland, OR. 97214, or by calling us at 541-737-1527.
 
Reconnect:
Our upcoming Re:Connect Oregon fundraiser on November 2 is an opportunity to support GtCNN through ticket or table purchases, silent auction bidding, and donations while hearing from Gateway Graduates and networking with local leaders. We are currently accepting corporate sponsorships for Re:Connect. You can find more information here.
 
At our Gateway Gatherings, we host panel discussions on current challenges and opportunities in education and industry. Our next Gateway Gathering will be held on Tuesday, December 12, at the Northwest Health Foundation. You can find our Gateway Gathering schedule at gatewaytocollege.org/events.
 
Volunteer:
Volunteer opportunities at GtCNN include serving on our Ambassador Council, providing event support, and representing your company at our jobs fair for opportunity youth in April 2018. If you have an idea for another volunteer opportunity, please let us know!
 
Engage:
Work-based learning opportunities (paid internships and mentorships) are an essential bridge between college and career for our students. In Multnomah County alone, there are more than 8,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are out of work and out of school. Help us create more opportunities for these youth in the local industry. In the first week of April, we will be hosting a jobs fair for our students and other previously disengaged youth. Encourage your company to join 50+ employers from the Portland area at our jobs fair.
 
If you would like to get involved in any these ways, please contact Hanna Lounsbury at jlounsbury@gatewaytocollege.org or 971-634-1527.

 

 

Gateway National Honors Awards: Academic Year 2016-17

Wednesday, July 26, 2017



We are excited to announce our new awards program, Gateway National Honors! The Honors designations recognize students for their hard work and academic accomplishments.

 

Presidents Award

 

3.7 - 4.0+ cumulative GPA

 

Massasoit Community College

Tayla Giannini
Gabriel Koubek
Amanda MacNevin
Kaley MacNevin

 

Mott Community College

Rebecca Heath
Benjamin Heath
Katherine Hyatt

 

Holyoke Community College

J'Anthony Smith

 

Portland Community College

Haley Aldinger
Aaron Bassow
Elianna Gnoffo
Ruby Munson
Phoebe Calkins
Kira Ekstedt
Daniel Moran
Alma "Risa" Otto
William Tang
Isabelle "Bella" Thramer
Aaliyah Fiala
Elena Volpi
Rebecca Jespersen
Kelly McManigal

 

St. Louis Community College

Jahon Ahmad-Gol
Lauren Bowers
Kalien Boykin

 

Montgomery County Community College

Daniel Madonna

 

 

Linda Huddle Award

 

3.5+ High School GPA* and/or
3.0+ College GPA*

 

Massasoit Community College

Alex Donovan-Ortiz
Calvin Duncan
Erica Goncalves
Zachary Honrado
Jalvin Peña
Anah Tucker-Olson
Marco Feeney
Josue Fernandes
Joseph Lussier
Kyle MacLennan
Collin Matson
Nicolas Provenzano
Giana Vittoriso
Jacob Boehner

 

Mott Community College

Dallas Fuller
Arieona Klaus
Amanda McNamara
Miles Skytta
Sean Suski

 

Holyoke Community College

Serena Boisvere
Nathan Donnelly
Eimy Holguin
Deborah Manus
Lionel Resto
Hectsy Robles

 

Portland Community College

Caleb Baldwin
Anand Boucher-Colbert
Dawn Dixon
Maya Lemma
Ayler Louviere
Claudia Johnson
Ethan Conrad
Tyler Dye
Watson Kendall
Valerie Patton
Tallan Paul
Allison Russell
Muslim Magomadov
Katrina Sharp-Behr
Mahdi Ahmed
Ben Dahl
Michael Hung
Malissa Nys
Nora Pearson
Mattie Schomus
Julia Crammond
Ximena Rojas-West
Esme Zodrow

 

St. Louis Community College

Zaymon Harris
Daisha Robinson

Montgomery County Community College

 

Alexa Spadafora
Chyanna Legarreta
Jacob Garrett
Leilani Lopes
Logan Harrison
Omowumi Popoola
Robin Polen

Student Spotlight: Eden's 2017 Graduation Speech, Mount Wachusett Community College

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Eden's speech begins at 14:08.

 

Hi. My name is Eden Shaveet. I’m 19 years old. I’m a Gateway student, I work at the college, and I love what I do.

 

That’s how I usually introduce myself to people. But today I thought I would introduce myself in a way I haven’t yet done before.

 

So Hi. My name is Eden Shaveet. I’m 19 years old. And I have attended 9 different schools throughout my lifetime. By the age of 12, I had been subjected daily to verbal and physical harassment by my peers to the point that I no longer wanted to attend school. At 13 I was shoved into a locker. At 14 I left school. By 15 I was purchasing and using substances I acquired from people in parking lots. At 16, I had adopted self-harm as my only means to cope. And at 17 I had lost all hope in myself.
 
Not as happy as the first intro, right?

 

But that’s the reality. And it’s a similar reality to those experienced by a lot of people, many of whom you may have never expected it from. And that makes us uncomfortable, right? So we don’t talk about it. And that creates a silence that often goes unacknowledged.

 

But it’s from that discomfort and from that silence that we are able to recognize the flaws in our perceptions that ultimately lead to the flaws in what we consider to be normal, appropriate, fair, and acceptable in our society.

 

Given my background as a former dropout and my current work in local public schools, I consider myself to be an advocate for education. And through this work, drawing from both personal experience and observation, something has made itself glaringly evident: As it currently stands, the education system in this country as a whole, inherently places certain populations of students at a significant disadvantage.

 

Populations such as students from low-income households, students who are first generation, students who dropped out or are at risk of dropping out, students who are disengaged from their communities, students who are bullied – all of these students are being underserved by a system intended to educate them equally and fairly, and it is the job of programs like Gateway to College, Talent Search, Upward Bound, and Gear Up to even the playing field and provide opportunity to these students that may not have been granted to them otherwise. Yet there are still people who believe that these programs lack meaning and value. There are still people who refuse to see any purpose in providing support to students in this capacity. In my everyday life, I have encountered people who have challenged me to defend the significance of the programs I have been a part of and worked for, with no intent to listen, and every intent to refute. Someone once even challenged me to defend Gateway to College as an alternative route to education, because they believed that as a student, I should have just been able to “stick it out” in my previous circumstances and to stop seeking assistance that wasn’t necessary. Well from a student’s perspective, I can tell you with the utmost amount of certainty that in the absence of such outreach programs I would not be where I am today and the fact that we have to fight to keep these programs functioning in our schools and communities is absurd.

 

According to a recent Gateway to College National Network study, the average GPA of students before they entered the Gateway program was a 1.62 on a 4.0 scale. By the end of their first term in the Gateway program, 83% of these same students earned a higher GPA than they had earned in high school, with over an entire grade-point improvement.

 

It is by unfortunate design that students of particular circumstances slip through the cracks in our education system, but it is contrary to such designs that programs like Gateway to College catch us before we fall, despite the barriers put in our way.

 

It’s no secret that barriers to opportunity emerge very early in life and that these barriers are highly indicative of a person’s likelihood to attain future success. Sometimes these barriers emerge in early childhood and sometimes they emerge even before a person exists, like a circumstance they were born into that they had no control over such as a lack of resources in an area they grew up in, that other areas or school systems did have access to. In our culture of desiring the “American Dream,” we’ve adopted this idea that if you want something badly enough, you can just work as hard as everyone else, and get it, right? But here’s the unpopular reality: Sometimes wanting it isn’t enough. Some people will never attain their aspirations due to the sheer fact that they lacked the support systems and opportunities that other people had readily available to them. The work of programs like Gateway to College and other outreach initiatives provide the resources we might not have otherwise received, and we are better off for it. We have to invest in our kids, invest in education, and support programs like Gateway to College, and so long as I’m around, so help me God, there will always be an advocate.

 

I’m eternally grateful to Gateway to College, and to Mount Wachusett for being a platform to offer this program to students like me who had nowhere else to turn. Thank you for opening your doors to me two years ago when any other school would have slammed them in my face.

 

I’m thankful for everyone who works in the division of Access and Transition, but especially to my resource specialist Sharmese Gunn for being my second mom whether I liked it or not.

 


 

Because of you I am finally a high school graduate, a college graduate with my associate’s degree, and an accepted student on her way to a four year degree and beyond – a feat that could not have happened in the absence of these programs. None of this would have been possible without the tireless and often thankless work you have all dedicated your lives to. Thank you for giving me a chance, for seeing something in me that I couldn’t see in myself, for always encouraging me to embrace my story rather than hide it, and to always question “the norm.”

 

If there is anything I have taken away from all of you, it is this sentiment that I will now pass on to any student in the audience who is unhappy with where they are in school, or feels like they’re seen as nothing more than a number: Do not be afraid to be the only voice willing to question common practice. Because in many cases, the practices we have accepted as common and “the norm” are in fact the obstacles they claim to be averting. Do not be afraid to stand up, even if you are standing alone. You are more than what this system has predetermined you to be. Take that, and run with it.

 

And run with this:

 

In a system where over 1 million students will drop out of high school next year, where over 3.2 million students will be the victim of bullying while in school, where 1 out of every 4 students will exhibit the symptoms of mental illness as the result of chronic stress, and where 32% of traditional high school graduates in 2011 chose to not pursue higher education, but 73% of Gateway to College graduates did, allow my story, and the story of every Gateway to College graduate in this theater, across this State, throughout this country, past, present, and future be a testament to the idea that maybe, the problem is not with the student.
 
Thank you all so much, and congratulations to the class of 2017.

 


 

 


 
 

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