Research from multiple sources indicates that students whose parents did not attend college may be less academically prepared, have less knowledge of how to apply for college and financial aid and may have more difficulty acclimating to college once enrolled.
Hamilton Community Foundation’s Youth Exploring Success (YES) program was started in 2010 to meet the needs of first generation college students. The program is unique because although YES Advocate Lindsey Lassiter, MA, works for the Hamilton Community Foundation, her offices are at Hamilton City Schools. The Foundation pays Lassiter’s salary and all the program’s expenses.
The college access program reached a major milestone in 2014 when its ideal outcome was achieved: 100 percent of the 25 YES participants from Hamilton High School’s graduating Class of 2014 are college-bound this fall.
The aim is to start students in the program when they are freshmen and continue through senior year. Lassiter, the only employee working directly with the program, spends two days a week at the Hamilton Freshmen School and three days a week at Hamilton High School.
Youth Philanthropy Committee Begins New Year of Activity
The Youth Philanthropy Committee (YPC), the youth grant making arm of the Hamilton Community Foundation, has started a new year of activity for the 2014-15 school year.
Audrey Amburgy was a YES student who graduated in 2014. She is now at Xavier University majoring in radiologic technology.
She started in YES as a freshman. Unsure about a possible college major later on, she took several tests assessing interests and skills. “Miss Lassiter works with you to set a goal on what you want to work on each year,” she said.
She eventually decided to pursue radiology. “My mom was diagnosed with an aneurism that was discovered by MRI,” she said. She said that Lassiter then helped her choose preparatory high school science courses. “Miss Lassiter was a mentor to me. When I had trouble in geometry she would meet me for lunch and help me study,” she said. “We started looking into radiology schools. We took a group campus visit to Xavier, and that is where I decided to go!” she said, adding that her parents are both excited about her starting college.
“I found out through the YES program that you can actually become something….you can actually do this! I would like to come back someday in the future and talk to the YES students at the high school and provide the same inspiration to them,” she said.
This year there were 82 students in the YES program at Hamilton High School. Lassiter says that each school year, there is an increase in the number of YES students, their level of participation and even their parent’s participation.
Students admitted to YES must express a sincere desire to go to college. There are also expectations of them throughout high school. “When they come to school, they are responsible, respectful and ready to learn,” says Lassiter, noting this is also expected of all students at the Hamilton City Schools. “I need to have high expectations for them because there are high expectations in life,” she says.
Most of her time with the students is spent one-on-one as she listens and responds to their individual concerns, challenges and goals. Lassiter says that she notices progress in freshmen YES participants as the year rolls along. “Goals are more salient to them,” she says. “They are more aware that college is an option for them and what possibilities exist in the college realm.”
Victoria Fernandez is a 2014 Hamilton High School graduate who was in the YES program for four years. This fall she is headed to the University of California to study linguistics.
“It put me on the right track,” she says, though she really did not understand the program’s purpose when she was a freshman. ”Miss Lassiter was always asking me, ‘what are you interested in?’“ Fernandez said after finally deciding on her career path, the YES program was instrumental to her in completing forms and applications. She was accepted to all seven colleges to which she applied.
Fernandez says the YES program is so important for first generation college students. “A lot of kids whose parents did not go to college think they will not be able to go. The program lets them know there is help financially,” she says.
“The program is designed to recruit them in the 9th grade and follow them through the 12th grade,” she says, adding that student needs change as they progress through high school.
Lassiter helps freshmen and sophomores explore personal interests that could lead to a paid career. “I ask them, ‘What do you like? What are your favorite classes?’ Then we do career research and explore various professions.” She assists juniors and seniors with ACT and SAT test registration, college applications and financial aid forms. Each spring she helps college-bound seniors “sort through the barrage of info related to finances, housing, meal plans and books.”
Lassiter is also a resource for parents with questions as their children navigate an educational system unfamiliar to them. Lassiter also reaches out to other professionals who can assist her with the student’s various needs, even arranging tutoring if necessary.
YES students at all levels have the opportunity to go on group college visits. They currently visit about eight colleges a year, including the College of Mt. St. Joseph, Wright State University, Xavier, University of Cincinnati and Miami University. This past summer they visited Berea College in Kentucky.
The days grow longer and warmer but Lassiter and the YES program do not take the summer off! “This is a year round program,” says Lassiter. “We have an active book club which meets weekly, and this year we visited Berea College in Kentucky.”
Follow up with YES alumni students continues and 100 percent of those who responded are all still in college. Lassiter says former YES students’ progress will continue to be tracked through the coming years to assess the program’s long term results.
The 2014-15 school year began a new group of freshmen joining YES. Along with the other YES participants, they will receive guidance and support that can change a life – opening the door to higher education and the all choices it provides.