BOSTON Boston Public Schools is in the middle of an experiment in college counseling.
For the past three years, BPS has been working with the College Advising Corps, a national nonprofit that aims to increase the number of low-income students who apply to college.
The program, which this year gained the support of Boston University, places recent college graduates in Boston’s public schools to beef up those schools’ college guidance.
A One-Person Pep Rally
Josue Jean-Pierre, a senior at Boston Green Academy in Brighton, is interested in Suffolk University, UMass Lowell and Northeastern. He always assumed he would go to college, but affordability is an issue. His father is a mechanic.
Jean-Pierre says he’s gotten good advice from the College Advising Corps counselor who works with him.
“To stop being lazy, because it has been a prominent factor in my life, being lazy,” Jean-Pierre says. “I figure that if I push myself a little bit more, I can be getting even better grades than I do now. He’s kinda like the pep rally in one person, ready to be right at your beck and call, ready to back you up.”
Really, Jean-Pierre is anything but lazy. He’s taking AP literature and honors calculus and is in competition with another senior to become valedictorian. He works late serving university students at a dining hall at Boston College and does his homework when he gets home from that job.
“He knows that he wants to go to college,” says Vicki Rivera, Green Academy’s director of college and career counseling. Rivera is one of just two guidance counselors at the school.
“He is hardcore about going to a school where he is going to be challenged and get a great education, but he also, similar to most of our kids, comes from an immigrant family,” Rivera explains. “Folks don’t necessarily understand the process of applying to college, and much less what it’s going to be like once he’s there.”
Katie Magyar, the program director for College Advising Corps BU, says the advisers offer an additional resource for students.
“What we are able to provide is another person who can think strictly about college access as their main goal,” Magyar says.
Pushing Students To Think About Life After High School
For the past two years, Green Academy students like Jean-Pierre have been getting help with college counseling from Rudy Luders, a recent Suffolk University graduate.
“The ultimate goal is not just to make sure the student goes to school. We want to make sure that when the student goes to college, they also don’t come out with a lot of debt.”
“The ultimate goal is not just to make sure the student goes to school,” Luders says. “We want to make sure that when the student goes to college, they also don’t come out with a lot of debt.”
Rivera, the Green Academy counselor, says Luders and Jean-Pierre have established a bond.
“Because he’s a BPS grad himself, and because he’s a male, and because he’s a young male of color, I think that’s made a big difference,” Rivera says. “Rudy’s been an amazing addition, because he’s really helped us to get more students thinking about life after high school.”
The difference Luders has made is something Jen Salazar, Jean-Pierre’s humanities teacher for the past two years, has also noticed.
“I kinda feel like Josue looks up to Rudy, one because they’re both from the Boston area, and so they have that shared experience, but two, I think as a young Haitian man himself he sees Rudy and it’s kind of like: ‘I can do this too,’ ” Salazar says. ” ‘I can be successful, too.’ ”
Eighty-eight percent of Green Academy’s students go on to college. Matt Holzer, the school’s headmaster, says most of the students are the first in their family to do that.
“I think they need to see themselves there,” Holzer says. “What does it mean to be the first generation from your family to go to college?”
‘Back Into The Pipeline’
At Green Academy, the College Advising Corps advisers come from Suffolk, Boston College, Tufts and UMass. The organization is in 24 of Boston’s high schools this year. About a third of this year’s advisers come from BU.
BU Vice President Laurie Pohl explains that as the Boston host of the College Advising Corps, the university plays several roles.
“So we provide space,” Pohl says. “We help to fundraise. The advisers and the director of the program are our employees. We actually act as their home base.”
Only 3 percent of BU’s undergraduates are non-Hispanic blacks. That low number is one reason the university has come under criticism from the Boston City Council. But Pohl says BU wants to improve on that record, and it sees its sponsorship of the College Advising Corps as one way to do that.
“We’ve had a long-standing commitment to enroll more Boston public school students,” Pohl says. “This program allows us to get back into the pipeline.”
Pohl says BU hopes to attract more of the Boston public school students it is mentoring, but she says the university also hopes to encourage them to apply to college, period.
Next year, when advisers are expected to be in all 32 Boston high schools, Pohl says BU hopes the majority will be BU alums.