Campus visit helps city kids see college as real option

August 2, 2017

Saint Michael’s College hosted a group of about 20 high school students, mostly from Boston and New York City high schools, for a three-day residential program July 25-27 focusing on the college application process.

The visit was through “College for Every Student” (CFES), a global organization committed to “helping underserved students get to and through college, and ready to enter the 21st century workforce.”

“This trip to Saint Michael’s is part of the CFES College Explore program, and for many students this residential experience is life-changing,” said Anna Garson, a fellow with CFES based in Essex, NY. She accompanied the group (which also included two students from the Adirondack region), as did other CFES staffers and chaperones from New York and Boston.

The visiting group’s three days at Saint Michael’s from Tuesday through Thursday included workshops on navigating the admission and financial aid process, a College Fair with Burlington area colleges, a campus tour, a film, and panel discussions with Saint Michael’s students describing college life. They also had several social events and eagerly sampled unofficial Saint Michael’s “classes” with Declan McCabe in biology and John O’Meara in physics that included looking at animal skulls showing evolution with the former, and having spirited discussions of space and physics with the latter.

Garson told how one of CFES staffer and chaperone from New York, Angel Acosta, made a particularly strong connection with the visitors after telling them of his own participation in a CFES program years ago — an experience that changed his life and career direction, from a self-described early-high-school trouble-maker to his present status as a graduate student at Columbia University Teachers’ College and a CFES Program Director.

Describing the week’s highlights, Garson said the right tone was set immediately upon arrival with “ice-breaker” activities. “These kids coming in were really outside of their comfort zones,” she said. “They didn’t know the other people, had never been to Vermont; in fact, one of the Boston chaperones said just driving in and seeing so many trees was such a step outside of what their environmental norm was from the city.”

“The ice-breaker sessions were a great time to see these kids just open up, being silly with each other, not being shy any more, going up to others they didn’t’ know and having conversations,” Garson said. “It made the next day when we were doing nonstop lectures and workshops go much smoother since they were comfortable with each other and the staff — and more receptive.”

The students primarily were high school juniors and seniors. “For the seniors it was an especially full experience since they haven’t written college essays but will have to do it in the next few months,” she said.

Staff chaperones stayed in Saint Michael’s suite-style residence halls with the students. Saint Michael’s panelists on Wednesday’s session about admission and financial aid were Carlos Vega, assistant director of admission, Matt Desorgher, associate director of student financial services, and Ken O’Connell, coordinator of military community services.

Vega, who was Saint Michel’s chief connection in organizing the visit in his role as assistant director for multicultural enrollment, said the program “engages student from underserved urban and rural areas in the “Core Practices”: Mentorship, Leadership through Service and Pathways to College and Career.”

“My favorite part is that they went over college applications and they showed them search features on how to look for colleges and scholarships,” Vega said, noting that at many inner-city schools, there might be just one counselor per 100 kids, so “they don’t have the resources” for applying knowledgeably and with direction, typically.

Garson said CFES, which started in 1990, is now operating in 30 states.

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