Want to increase college attendance rates for low-income, first-generation students? There is an app for that — many apps, actually, as students at Career High School learned Friday morning.
College Summit, a national nonprofit that helps low-income students successfully apply to college by training students to serve as leaders for their peers, hosted the “app-a-thon” at the high school. At the event, Career’s peer leaders — seniors in their last few months of high school who have gone through the college application process — showed dozens of younger students how to use 20 apps designed to help them navigate financial aid, compare different schools, learn to manage their time and hear stories from first-generation students.
“New technology is available to help students sort through an array of information,” Mayor Toni Harp said at the event.
In addition to Harp, New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries ’95, College Summit Connecticut Executive Director Veronica DeLandro and Career senior peer leader Shaina Blumell spoke at the event. Dean of Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan attended as well.
The apps range from the game “Zombie College,” designed to make players understand the steps of applying to college by setting the process as a battle against the undead, to the planning tool “Tractus Insight,” which allows user to research and compare schools.
College Summit trained roughly 40 Career students to become peer leaders through a weeklong workshop at the University of Connecticut last summer, where they got accustomed to campus life, worked on their essays and resumes and learned tips about the process.
The peer leaders were introduced to the apps just last month, however, and peer leader Jessica Bromell said she thinks the apps will be helpful to younger students beginning their college research and applications.
“I wish we had had them,” Bromell said.
As the peer leaders showcased the apps on iPads and laptops in their cafeteria, they also shared more general advice about their college admissions experiences with the freshmen, sophomores and juniors circulating through the room.
First-generation students Jayla Manning, headed to Southern Connecticut State University, and Tanasia Edwards, bound for Tuskegee University in Alabama, described how being the first in their immediate families to go to college created additional challenges. Parents who had not gone through the application process could not always answer questions, and understanding financial aid was critical.
Manning and Edwards also helped students navigate the online community “I’m First,” which is designed to address those concerns. It allows users to compare schools’ first-generation student graduation rate, financial aid options and other criteria. It also features blogs and video posts by first-generation students about their time at college.
“You can see, ‘I’m not alone,’” Manning said, gesturing at a video of a young woman discussing how she chose her school. “She’s just like me.”
Freshman Julius Dixon said the apps he had looked at offered information he had not seen before. He said he plans to use them over the next few years.
Harp noted that the app-a-thon is just one piece of NHPS’s broader effort to promote college access and readiness. Last month, the district made headlines when Gov. Dannel Malloy announced at New Haven Academy that the district’s graduation rate has increased 13 percentage points since 2010 to 75.5 percent in 2014.
Dolores Garcia-Blocker, director of college and career pathways in the district, attributed the improvement to the development of what she called a “college-going culture” in the district.
“A college-going culture has to be built in the schools and things follow from that,” Garcia-Blocker told the News last month.
Events such as the app-a-thon, like much of College Summit’s programming, are aimed at building that culture.
“It is happening, not just at Career but all over New Haven,” DeLandro said.
The Career app-a-thon was part of a nationwide push to train 100,000 students in the use of the apps, with similar events held in California, Colorado, New York and Florida, according to DeLandro.