Not enough kids from cities like mine, Newark, go to college. But here’s the even bigger problem—still fewer young people from cities like mine finish college. I know that Newark is bursting with talented, smart, young people who want a college degree. But to give more students a path to college graduation, we need to give them the support and mentorship they deserve.
I graduated high school from KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy, a school that sends more African-American kids to college than any other high school in Newark. Because of my KIPP Through College (KTC) counselors and my family, when it came time to apply to college my senior year it was truly a team effort.
Along with pushing me to consider what school would be the best fit for me academically, they encouraged me to take my time and carefully consider all of the scholarships I was offered and the financial aid I could still apply for. Schools that were top choices dropped to the bottom of the list and some schools that were on the edge made their way to the top of the list due to the great financial aid packages that were sent.
Ultimately, my decision to attend Johnson and Wales University was made once I toured the campus and received a wonderful financial aid package.
I had many friends from other high schools who struggled through the college application process only to realize later on that the school they chose wasn’t what they thought it would be. Many first-generation college students don’t get the support they need and have to drop out. This was true for some of my friends who realized that after being at school for a semester or two they wouldn’t be able to afford to further attend.
The guidance that comes from KTC to help navigate the application and selection process is invaluable and college counselors everywhere are severely undervalued.
To make sure I stayed on track, after I arrived on my college campus my KTC counselor, Mr. Forde, went to bat for me when I needed it. He let me know that even though I was going to be away from friends and family, he was just a phone call away. He checked in with me all of the time, visited me on campus throughout the school year, and connected me with other KIPP alum on campus as a resource.
I knew that I could go to Mr. Forde with any issue; The fact that he was in my shoes not too long ago and experienced some of the same things showed me I could persist through college, too. More college students should have mentors like him.
Because of my hard work, perseverance, and the support of Mr. Forde, I am now a college graduate. I received my diploma from Johnson and Wales University last May. However, I don’t need to be the statistical exception in Newark. While some colleges and universities offer support to first-generation college students, they could be doing more. They have a moral obligation to support all of their students through graduation, just like the support I got from KTC.
Newark is a city full of kids, like me, who can do great things and I believe our schools can help make it happen. A little extra support in your corner goes a long way. The work KIPP is doing in Newark and in other cities means other kids in our communities will have the same opportunities I did and it gives them, and our cities, the future they deserve.