College Crusade expands education-access programs to Cranston

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At-risk students in Cranston have a new ally on their side thanks to a partnership between the district and the College Crusade of Rhode Island that was approved by the School Committee last Monday night.

“It’s going to be an incredible opportunity for all our students who are facing financial difficulty now to receive everything from a wealth of counseling services to all kinds of support services within the school,” said Superintendent Peter Nero.

Nero and other Cranston educators have been in talks with the College Crusade for several months, working on logistics. Monday night’s approval of the Memorandum of Understanding cemented the relationship.

“We were extremely impressed with this program coming into Cranston,” Nero said. “It’s an outstanding program; we’re dealing with outstanding people.”

The College Crusade is currently working with the Central Falls, Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Providence school districts, but Cranston is new territory beyond the central urban communities.

“We’re excited about coming into Cranston. There’s a definite need when you look at the population,” said William Formicola, senior vice president for operations at the College Crusade. “We target the poorest kids in the poorest schools; we’re going after that population that’s the hardest to reach, basically.”

Eighty-eight percent of Crusaders are from minority families, with 44 percent coming from Spanish speaking homes.

Starting this fall, College Crusade counselors will begin identifying students in the sixth grade who would benefit most from the Crusade’s mission of improving educational outcomes for youth in low-income communities. Formicola estimates that they will select between 100 and 150 students for the program.

Those students, on their way to the seventh grade, will have access to educational and career preparedness programs starting next summer. In order to qualify, students must be eligible for free or reduced lunch. A search committee made up of school staff and administrators, as well as recruiting coordinators from the College Crusade of Rhode Island, will choose future crusaders.

“We’re basically picking kids at grade six and following them all the way through to college; these are kids who may not have normally had the opportunity to go to college,” said School Committee member Frank Lombardi. “I support it 150 percent. Wonderful things are happening in the city of Cranston.”

The College Crusade encourages parent involvement. Parents have access to workshops on supporting a college-bound student and information on the college readiness and application process. There is a mandatory orientation for parents of any child who participates.

“We want to ensure that these parents are involved so they can guide their child from their perspective,” said College Crusade President and CEO Todd Flaherty. “We firmly believe parent engagement is crucial.”

Over the course of a student’s Crusade “career,” they will have access to more than 50 enrichment programs, including leadership training, career mentoring, SAT preparatory courses and visits to universities. How involved a student becomes is ultimately left up to him or her.

“The opportunities are there all the time if they want to take advantage of it,” Formicola said.

There will also be school-based College Crusade advisors at Bain and Park, and later at Cranston East and West, who can meet with students whenever they need advice, direction or have questions about school or college options.

“In addition to the myriad of programs they’ll be accessing, they’re going to have that one-on-one direction,” Flaherty said, explaining that having the advisors in schools helps to keep students on track, despite distractions that come from friends, after-school activities and, often times, jobs to help support their families.

The College Crusade has been connecting students to these opportunities for more than 20 years. They are federally funded, and recently received additional monies to assist low-income students in getting through college.

“There’s no cost to the taxpayers of the city of Cranston,” Nero said.

Ultimately, the goal is to support students in their efforts to complete college. Since 2001, more than 3,000 Crusaders have received over $23 million in scholarships from the organization. Of the approximately 3,500 Rhode Island students who participate in the College Crusade support programs, 76 percent will be the first in their families to graduate from college.

For more information, visit www.thecollegecrusade.org.

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